When NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off on Aug.
30, 1983, one crewmember chuckled with excitement all the way
into space, and he made history along the way.

Twenty years later, Guion S. “Guy” Bluford’s memories of his
historic flight (STS-8) are just as vivid as they were on
that summer night. It was the first Space Shuttle launch and
landing at night and the first time an African-American flew
into space.

“It was around midnight and it was raining,” Bluford recalls
today. “We came down the elevator, heading to ‘the bird,’
what we called the Shuttle, and all these people were
standing there cheering us on. When the clock counted down
and we took off, I just laughed, it was so much fun,” he

Though his achievement instantly thrust him into the
spotlight as a role model for young African-Americans,
Bluford says his goal was never to be the first African-
American in space. “I recognized the importance of it, but I
didn’t want to be a distraction for my crew,” he said. “We
were all contributing to history and to our continued
exploration of space.”

Instead, Bluford says his goal was “to make others feel
comfortable” with African-Americans in space.

“I felt I had to do the best job I could for people like the
Tuskegee Airmen, who paved the way for me, but also to give
other people the opportunity to follow in my footsteps,”
Bluford said. The Tuskegee Airmen made history as the first
black flying squadron in World War II.

Bluford’s interest in flying dates back to his days in junior
high school, making model airplanes and wanting to learn more
about jet and rocket engines. Though he wanted to become an
aerospace engineer, he became an Air Force fighter pilot in
1966, eventually flying combat missions over Vietnam. When he
returned from the war, Bluford began teaching others to fly,
but soon decided he was ready to learn more about flying at a
much higher altitude.

In 1977 he applied to NASA to become an astronaut. A year
later, he was selected for the program, along with two other
African-Americans, Fred Gregory and Ronald McNair. But it
wasn’t until 1982, in a meeting with George Abbey, then
director of flight crew operations at NASA’s Johnson Space
Center (JSC), that Bluford realized he was headed to space.

“Dale Gardner, Dan Brandenstein, Dick Truly and I were all
sitting in Abbey’s office,” he recalls. “Abbey said, ‘I’m
looking for a crew for STS-8, and I was wondering if you were
interested?’ It was quite a thrill.”

Before the flight, NASA kept Bluford out of the news media
spotlight, so he could focus on his mission. It also helped;
much of the attention was still focused on Sally Ride, who
had just made history on the previous Shuttle flight as the
first American woman in space.

Bluford and the crew of STS-8, including fifth crewmember
Bill Thornton, trained at JSC for 15 months, before heading
to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for their rainy launch early
on Aug. 30.

With the cockpit dark, Bluford recalls fellow astronaut
Shannon Lucid, who would fly on five future Shuttle missions,
strapping him into his seat between Brandenstein, the pilot,
and Shuttle Commander Truly. The clock counted down, and the
Challenger lifted off. Over the next six days, Bluford and
the crew deployed INSAT-1B, a multipurpose Indian satellite,
and they conducted medical measurements to understand the
effects of space flight on the human body.

The one thing he didn’t have to worry about was his appetite.
“We had little sandwiches tied to our seats, and when we got
on orbit a couple of crewmembers weren’t feeling well as they
adapted to space, so they passed on lunch,” Bluford said. “I
felt fine. I not only ate my lunch, but part of theirs, too,”
he said.

Following Challenger’s successful early morning landing at
12:30 a.m., Sept. 5, 1983, Bluford went on a three-month
national speaking tour, thanking the public for supporting
him, the crew of STS-8 and the Shuttle program. He was a
crewmember on three more Shuttle missions, STS-61A, STS-39
and STS-53, before retiring from the Astronaut Corps in 1993.
“I was very lucky to have had four successful missions,”
Bluford said. “When you went out to the pad with me,
everything pretty much went as planned.”

For more information about Guy Bluford, on the Internet,


Media organizations interested in interviewing Bluford should
contact Al Feinberg, NASA HQ Public Affairs, at: 202/358-