Guion Bluford: First African American in Space

December 19, 2009 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

The first African American to fly in space and the woman astronaut who helped rescue the Hubble Telescope will join other NASA heroes in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame this June.

Guion “Guy” Bluford became the first Black person in space as a member of the first space shuttle crew to launch and land at night.Guion Bluford

Until 2007, Kathy Thornton held the record for the longest spacewalk by a woman. She was paired with astronaut Tom Akers to repair Hubble during two of the mission’s five spacewalks, “including the installation of COSTAR, or the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, which served as contact lenses to refocus light bouncing off Hubble’s primary mirror,” according to

Bluford’s four space flights opened the door for other African-American astronauts.

“We had to, as a crew, figure out the techniques that were required to launch the thing at night and as well as land the thing at night,” Bluford told collectSPACE in 2002 on the anniversary of his first mission in 1983. That flight, the STS-8 mission, was dedicated to deploying a multipurpose India-built satellite and conducting medical measurements to understand the effects of space flight on the human body. Bluford’s other missions included the first of the German-directed Spacelab science flights (STS-61A in 1985) and two Department of Defense-dedicated missions (STS-39 in 1991 and STS-53 in 1992).

“I feel very proud of being a trailblazer with reference to space flight, particularly for African-Americans,” he said. “I recognize I was one of several African Americans that came into the program, and I think we have all made significant contributions to the program.”

During her mission to repair Hubble, Thornton also jettisoned one of the telescope’s damaged solar arrays.

“It looks like a bird,” she commented, as the large array began to flap as the result of the shuttle’s thrusters being fired.

In addition to her work on Hubble, Thornton flew on three other shuttle missions, including STS-33, a 1989 defense flight; STS-73, also with Bowersox; and the 1992 maiden flight of orbiter Endeavour, during which she served as the spacewalk coordinator, or IVA officer, for the only three-person EVA in history. She then made a spacewalk of her own, demonstrating “how not to build a space station.”

Entry filed under: Firsts, Historical Figures, News. Tags: , , , , .

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