Thursday, February 23, 2017

Black History Month-Pioneers in Space

History Maker-Dr. Guion Bluford, Jr.

(Photo by NASA)
The first African American to go into space was Dr. Guion Bluford, Jr. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Dr. Bluford then entered the United States Air Force, and served as a pilot in Vietnam. He went on to earn a Master’s and a Ph.D. degree in aerospace engineering. “Dr. Bluford became an astronaut in 1979. . . and in 1983, Bluford became the first African American to go into space aboard the STS-8” (Asante, 61). Bluford, was among four men who became the first African American astronauts; the other three are: Dr. Ronald McNair, Major General Charles Bolden, Jr., and Frederick Gregory. Dr. Bluford attended the reinternment ceremony of explorer Matthew Henson, and he was among the NASA astronauts who attended the funeral of Dr. Ronald McNair.

For more information go to, NASA’s educational, All About Astronauts site

A Bold Move-Major General Charles Bolden, Jr.

(Photo by NASA)

A native of Columbia, S.C., Mr. Bolden became the first African American in charge of NASA’s space program. Before becoming the lead administrator at NASA, Mr. Bolden graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, served in Vietnam, Kuwait, and Japan, earned a Master’s degree in systems management, and was a NASA astronaut for 14 years. In 1990, during his fourteen year term at NASA, Major General Bolden piloted the Space Shuttle Discovery. On this mission he and his team launched the Hubble Space Telescope. Major General Bolden became NASA’s 12th administrator, the first African American to hold this position, in 2009.

Here is a video about Major General Bolden, presented by actor Levar Burton. 

Go to the link below to see Major General Bolden's flight suit. 

One of the Few, the Four-Frederick Gregory

(Photo by NASA)

Astronaut Frederick Gregory was born in the United States in Washington, D. C. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in science, and he went on to earn a master's degree in information systems (NASA, n.d.). Mr. Gregory became an astronaut in 1978 and worked for NASA until 2005 (NASA, n.d). Along with Dr. Bluford, Major General Bolden, and Dr. McNair, Mr. Gregory was one of the first four African-American astronauts.

A Brilliant Physicist-Dr. Ronald McNair

(Photo by NASA)
The accomplished Dr. McNair, one of the 7 astronauts who perished during the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, was the second African American to go into space and the first to die in space. Dr. McNair had a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, and he excelled early on in life becoming valedictorian of his high school class (Cheers, 84). According to Ebony magazine, Dr. McNair was, “recognized nationally for his work in the field of laser physics” (Cheers, 84). In addition to his scientific pursuits, Dr. McNair played the saxophone and was a sixth degree black belt in karate. In a tribute to Dr. McNair in Ebony magazine, it was said that he, “walked humbly and never boasted about his achievements” (Cheers, 90). The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was a friend of Dr. McNair’s, spoke at his funeral.

Go here to see an interview on CBS News with Dr. McNair’s widow.

Asante, M.K. (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Prometheus Books. pp.61.

Cheers, D.M. (1986, May). Requiem for a Hero: ‘Touching the Face of God.’ Ebony. 41(7). pp. 82-94.

Joiner, L. (2009, Fall). Bold Moves. The Crisis. 116(4). pp. 22-27

Leavy, W. (1983). Lt. Co. Guion S. Bluford Jr. takes…A Historic Step Into Outer Space. Ebony, 39(1), pp. 162-168.
Myers, A. (2005). Bluford, Guion Stewart (Guy). In Appiah, K.A. & Gates, H.L., (eds).  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, 2nd. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 558.

NASA. (n.d.). NASA’s African-American Astronauts. Retrieved from:

United States Marine Corps. (2005, October 7). Official Biography for Charles Bolden, Jr. Retrieved from: (1 of 2)10/7/2005 11:12:09 AM 

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