U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford becomes the first African American to travel into space when the space shuttle Challenger lifts off on its third mission. It was the first night launch of a space shuttle, and many people stayed up late to watch the spacecraft roar up from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:32 a.m.
The Challenger spent six days in space, during which time Bluford and his four fellow crew members launched a communications satellite for the government of India, made contact with an errant communications satellite, conducted scientific experiments, and tested the shuttle’s robotic arm. Just before dawn on September 5, the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, bringing an end to the most flawless shuttle mission to that date.
Guion Stewart Bluford II was born in Philadelphia in 1942. From an early age, “Guy” was fascinated with flight and decided he wanted to design and build airplanes. In 1964, he graduated from Penn State with a degree in aerospace engineering. Deciding he’d need to know how to fly planes if he wanted to build them, he entered the U.S. Air Force and graduated with his pilot wings in 1965. He was assigned to a fighter squadron in Vietnam, where he flew 144 combat missions. After combat service, he became a flight instructor and in the 1970s went on to receive a master’s degree and doctorate in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
In 1979, he was accepted into the U.S. astronaut program. He made his first flight in 1983 as a mission specialist on the eighth shuttle mission. He later flew three more shuttle missions, logging a total of 700 hours in orbit. After returning from NASA, he became vice president and general manager of an engineering company in Ohio.