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40 years ago NASA astronaut Guy Bluford embarked on STS-8, making history as the first Black American to venture into space. He went on to participate in three more shuttle missions, accumulating over 688 hours in space.
In a 2013 interview with NASA, Bluford admitted that it took him some time to comprehend the significance of his selection as the first African-American in space.
“I wanted to set the standard, do the best job possible so that other people would be comfortable with African-Americans flying in space and would be proud of participating in the space program and… encourage others to do the same,” Bluford said.
Prior to his space mission, Bluford was an Air Force fighter pilot who had obtained a doctorate in aerospace engineering.
He was recognized as the Black Engineer of the Year in 1991.
In an interview with Tyrone Taborn for US Black Engineer magazine’s 1991 Conference Issue, Bluford revealed that as a child, he had dreamed of becoming an aerospace engineer.
“When I was a kid, space did not exist…astronauts were Flash Gordon and Ming. My goal in life was to be an aerospace engineer. Along the way, I joined the Air Force and became a pilot and eventually an astronaut.”
On February 11, 2023, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III gave the keynote address at the 37th annual BEYA STEM Conference gala. Secretary Austin paid tribute to the groundbreaking achievements of Guy Bluford.
Representatives from both the public and private sectors were in attendance at the BEYA conference, which was held from February 9-11, 2023. This year’s conference theme was “Becoming Everything You Are,” and significant technological advancements and achievements were recognized.
Austin emphasized the significance of Bluford’s groundbreaking achievement, noting that he was honored as the Black Engineer of the Year just three years after his space mission.
Guy Bluford made history on August 30, 1983, when he became the first Black American in space, launching into low Earth orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.
He subsequently flew aboard three additional shuttle missions, logging 688 hours in space.
Secretary Austin recognized the contributions of trailblazers like Guy Bluford in promoting diversity and breaking down barriers in STEM. He stressed the importance of inclusive practices, stating that “we cannot afford to leave any talent behind, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity.”
Austin also spoke about current STEM developments and highlighted the importance of emerging technologies in shaping the future.
He emphasized the need for continued investment in STEM education and research, underscoring the importance of collaboration and diversity in driving innovation and progress.
Bluford told The Houston Chronicle “I don’t know what I expected, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get more and more African Americans in the future coming into the astronaut program.”
As the Chronicle reported, Bluford and others said that a big barrier is education, as Black students are underrepresented in STEM careers, which are prerequisites for the astronaut program.
In addition to this, there have only been 16 Black people to fly with the space program, so visibility is also a factor.
Bluford sees it as his responsibility to encourage Black students to get into aerospace and remarked to the Houston Chronicle that he had not seen very many other Black aerospace engineers during his time as an aerospace engineer.