The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Guion Bluford

NASA astronaut, aerospace engineer, military officer, and senior engineering executive, Guion S. Bluford Jr. was born on November 22, 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest of three sons of Guion Bluford, Sr., a mechanical engineer, and Lolita Bluford, a special education teacher. Bluford graduated from Overbrook Senior High School in 1960 and went on to graduate from Pennsylvania State University in 1964 with his B.S. degree in aerospace engineering. He was also a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force ROTC program and received his commission as an Air Force second lieutenant. Bluford graduated from the Air Force Institute of Technology with his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering in 1974 and 1978, respectively. In 1987, Bluford received his M.B.A. degree in management from the University of Houston at Clear Lake.

After receiving his Air Force pilot wings, Bluford was assigned to the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. As an F4C fighter pilot, he flew 144 combat missions in Southeast Asia. From 1967 to 1972, he was a T-38 instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas where he trained future U.S. Air Force and West German fighter pilots. Upon graduating from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1974, Bluford was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory as Deputy for Advanced Concepts in the Aeromechanics Division and then as Branch Chief of the Aerodynamics and Airframe Branch. In 1978, Bluford was selected for the astronaut program and was officially designated a NASA astronaut one year later. In 1983, he became the first African American to fly in space and the first to receive the U.S. Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings. Bluford was also the first African American to return to space a second, third, and fourth time when he flew on STS-61A in 1985, STS-39 in 1991, and STS-53 in 1992. He has logged more than 688 hours in space.

In 1993, he retired from NASA and the United States Air Force to become the Vice President/General Manager of the Engineering Services Division of NYMA Inc. He led the research support effort in aeropropulsion, satellite systems, microgravity and advanced materials. In 1997, he became the Vice President of the Aerospace Sector of the Federal Data Corporation and led the company’s NASA business. Finally, in 2000, Bluford became the Vice President of Microgravity R&D and Operation for Northrop Grumman Corporation and led the industry team in the development of two experiment facilities currently on the International Space Station. Today, Bluford is the President of the Aerospace Technology Group in Cleveland, Ohio.

Bluford has been awarded the Department of Defense Superior Service and Meritorious Service Medals; the Air Force Legion of Merit and Meritorious Service Medal; the NASA Distinguished Service and Exceptional Service Medals; the Pennsylvania Distinguished Service Medal; the 1991 Black Engineer of the Year Award and fourteen honorary doctorate degrees. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997 and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010

Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 9, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.165

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/9/2013

Last Name

Bluford

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Stewart

Schools

Air Force Institute of Technology

University of Houston

Pennsylvania State University

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Guion

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

BLU01

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Any

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $4000-$7500

Favorite Season

Summer

Speaker Bureau Notes

For commencement speeches in which an honorary doctorate degree is confirmed, no honorarium is charged,

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Do what you love and love what you do.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

11/22/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Cleveland

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Steak, Lobster

Short Description

Astronaut and military officer Guion Bluford (1942 - ) , flew 144 combat missions in Southeast Asia as an F4C fighter pilot and served as a Branch Chief in the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory. He became the first African American astronaut to fly in space on STS-8 (1983, shuttle Challenger), and the first African American to return to space a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time on STS-61-A (1985, shuttle Challenger), STS-39 (1991, shuttle Discovery) and STS-53 (1992, shuttle Discovery). Bluford retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1993 to become a senior aerospace industry executive.

Employment

Aerospace Technology Group

Northrop Grumman Information Technology

Federal Data Corporation

NYMA Inc.

Johnson Space Center

Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory

3630th Flying Training Wing

12th Tactical Fighter Wing

Favorite Color

Beige

Timing Pairs
0,0:3596,55:4092,60:4712,66:10116,146:11068,154:15320,224:15788,304:21382,378:25848,451:30005,503:31865,539:32330,545:34097,573:37724,618:39398,639:39863,648:40514,670:44482,678:45014,687:45470,695:45774,701:47978,738:48358,744:49118,753:49726,762:52752,775:53088,780:53424,785:56280,841:56784,859:57372,868:59808,912:60228,918:61068,929:61488,935:64543,948:65089,956:66727,976:67182,982:67728,990:68183,997:73613,1059:73937,1065:74990,1078:76286,1109:76934,1119:77906,1138:80678,1150:85554,1202:86296,1211:88204,1252:88628,1257:90642,1273:93398,1307:95624,1342:98062,1367:98698,1375:101960,1388:102560,1395:106260,1430:107060,1439:107760,1447:115720,1525:119210,1735:119630,1743:122566,1787:122936,1793:123232,1798:123750,1803:128058,1841:128410,1846:128850,1852:131842,1902:135714,1969:141333,2068:142045,2080:143024,2095:146310,2119:148480,2162:148970,2171:149250,2176:149530,2181:149880,2187:150300,2194:150720,2202:152400,2305:159890,2393:161562,2415:162706,2429:163498,2440:163938,2446:164466,2454:168624,2478:170760,2494:171120,2502:171840,2511:172290,2525:174368,2539:175369,2553:175908,2558:178603,2615:178911,2620:179219,2625:180451,2647:182145,2684:182761,2694:183146,2700:187680,2725:188538,2739:188928,2745:192004,2780:192596,2790:192966,2796:193632,2808:197480,2879:197924,2886:198516,2895:199182,2912:203906,2944:204362,2952:206186,2977:206642,2984:207250,2993:207858,3003:208922,3020:209758,3040:214570,3085:214906,3090:215914,3130:228972,3279:231130,3303:239238,3398:242046,3438:243684,3467:244542,3480:244932,3486:246102,3512:246570,3519:247116,3538:247740,3548:249222,3580:253590,3595:261428,3684:261968,3690:266396,3745:267692,3762:268232,3769:269096,3779:269852,3787:270932,3801:275315,3808:276080,3818:276505,3824:277015,3832:277695,3841:279480,3875:280840,3893:281265,3899:281945,3908:284410,3917:287380,3975:290530,4019:290890,4024:291610,4034:295480,4079:299150,4103:299950,4113:300350,4118:301350,4128:301850,4134:302350,4140:306850,4197:307250,4202:307750,4208:308450,4218:309850,4234:310550,4243:314422,4266:315362,4279:316620,4285:319260,4322:320404,4339:320932,4346:321460,4352:323044,4403:323660,4411:324364,4421:324804,4427:330640,4481:331020,4486:332065,4499:332635,4506:334535,4558:335960,4577:343566,4635:344610,4650:345045,4656:346437,4673:347046,4681:347829,4693:351570,4748:357266,4808:357646,4814:359242,4843:359622,4849:360002,4855:360534,4864:360990,4872:366462,4964:369936,4979:370401,4985:371145,4994:371610,5000:372819,5014:373563,5023:374400,5032:378310,5065:380150,5105:384310,5196:384790,5203:385830,5220:391800,5267:392080,5272:392640,5281:394950,5320:395650,5332:396560,5347:400958,5390:402820,5413:403310,5420:404290,5429:404682,5434:405466,5450:405858,5455:406544,5473:412766,5513:413176,5520:413586,5526:414898,5548:415718,5564:421048,5669:427880,5713:428184,5718:430870,5739$0,0:552,6:1312,11:1616,16:2528,34:3212,84:4124,99:4580,137:4960,143:5416,151:5720,156:11420,279:12028,290:12408,296:13320,320:21632,393:26614,462:27648,475:29904,506:30280,511:37405,573:39615,621:40975,648:41570,659:42165,668:42760,675:43185,681:44035,694:44375,699:49725,746:50175,754:54075,846:54900,861:56250,884:56625,890:57525,904:59625,947:64762,980:65798,995:66242,1002:67944,1031:68536,1041:69572,1062:70238,1072:70830,1083:71348,1093:71644,1098:72310,1111:72754,1119:73568,1138:76729,1154:79302,1195:79883,1203:80381,1209:81460,1233:82207,1243:83120,1258:87746,1291:88208,1300:88472,1305:89066,1318:89924,1356:90584,1367:91442,1382:92102,1396:92762,1407:93620,1447:100098,1503:100418,1509:100930,1519:101250,1525:103746,1580:104834,1602:105154,1608:110764,1669:112324,1690:112636,1695:113416,1706:115366,1749:118408,1817:121510,1839
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Guion Bluford's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Guion Bluford lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Guion Bluford describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Guion Bluford talks about his mother's education and her career as a teacher

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Guion Bluford talks about growing up in a non-segregated environment in Philadelphia, and talks about his mother's career, personality and interests

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Guion Bluford describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Guion Bluford describes his father's education, and how his parents met at Alcorn A&M College in the 1930s

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Guion Bluford describes his father's employment as an engineer, and his family's early life in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Guion Bluford describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Guion Bluford talks about his brothers, and about growing up in Philadelphia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Guion Bluford describes the demographics of West Philadelphia during his childhood years and describes his interests as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Guion Bluford talks about his childhood interest in airplanes as well as joining the Boy Scouts

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Guion Bluford describes his experience at the YMCA and what influenced his childhood interest in becoming an aerospace engineer

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Guion Bluford describes his experience in elementary school and junior high school in Philadelphia

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Guion Bluford describes his experience in high school in Philadelphia

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Guion Bluford talks about his role models in engineering and his interest in pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Guion Bluford talks about his teachers in school, his decision to attend Pennsylvania State University and his encounter with a college counselor

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Guion Bluford talks about his father's struggle with epilepsy, his mother career as a school teacher, and his grandfather's influence on his life

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Guion Bluford talks about his interest in solving puzzles and his decision to attend Pennsylvania State University for his undergraduate studies

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Guion Bluford talks about his graduating class at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Guion Bluford describes his experience as an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Guion Bluford describes his family's involvement in the Christian Science church

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Guion Bluford describes his fear of heights and hospitals

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Guion Bluford describes his social experience at Pennsylvania State University in the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Guion Bluford talks about his decision to enroll in the Air Force Advanced ROTC Course and join the U.S. Air Force as an engineer

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Guion Bluford talks about how he met his wife, Linda Tull

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Guion Bluford talks about his decision to become a pilot in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Guion Bluford describes his senior year at Penn State University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Guion Bluford talks about graduating from Penn State University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Guion Bluford talks about Professor Leslie Greenhill and Professor Barnes McCormick, who were his mentors at Penn State University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Guion Bluford talks about his early married life and the few months following his graduation from Penn State University

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Guion Bluford talks about his initial experience on Williams Air Force Base

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Guion Bluford describes his pilot training experience on Williams Air Force Base in 1965

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Guion Bluford talks about Air Force pilot Chappie James and his first assignment out of pilot training in 1966

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Guion Bluford talks about the low percentage of black pilots in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Guion Bluford describes his service as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam, from 1966 to 1967 - part one

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Guion Bluford describes his service as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam, from 1966 to 1967 - part two

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Guion Bluford talks about his fighter plane being shot at while he was in Vietnam

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Guion Bluford shares his perspective on the Vietnam War

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Guion Bluford talks about his decision to become an instructor pilot and his experience at Sheppard Air Force Base

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Guion Bluford talks about his decision to pursue graduate school

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Guion Bluford talks about Robert Lawrence

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Guion Bluford describes his experience in the master's degree program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Guion Bluford describes his decision to pursue a Ph.D. degree in aerospace engineering

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Guion Bluford describes his experience as a doctoral student in aerospace engineering

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Guion Bluford discusses his doctoral dissertation on determining a numerical solution to describe the flow around a delta wing at hypersonic speeds

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Guion Bluford describes his decision to apply for the NASA astronaut program in 1977

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Guion Bluford describes his selection to the NASA astronaut program in 1978

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$2

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Guion Bluford describes his service as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam, from 1966 to 1967 - part one
Guion Bluford describes his experience at the YMCA and what influenced his childhood interest in becoming an aerospace engineer
Transcript
So, I got--$$So after--(simultaneous)--$$--I graduated from pilot training [at Williams Air Force Base, Mesa, Arizona], F-4Cs, frontline, Moc II, fighter bomber, Vietnam, Southeast Asia. That was my assignment.$$You were a bomber pilot?$$Fighter pilot. This is fighter pilot--(simultaneous)--$$Fighter pilot, okay.$$This is fighter pilot.$$All right, and you were flying the, what was the plane that you--$$F-4C Phantom.$$F-4C, okay.$$F-4C Phantom, brand new fighter airplane. It used to be a [U.S.] Navy airplane. Then the [U.S.] Air Force liked it and made it an Air Force airplane, "C" version. So after pilot training, I went to, left the wife [Linda Tull] and kids in Phoenix, went to Reno, Nevada to stay there for a space for three weeks of survival school. And then from there, I went down to Davis-Monthan [Air Force Base] in Tucson [Arizona], wife and kids, we all went down to Tucson for two or three months for radar school. And then we went to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and I flew the machine, learned to fly it, take off, land, refuel, drop bombs, all that sort of stuff, about six months flying, six months. In October of '65 [1965] I sent the wife, and took the wife and kids to Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], got them situated and in October of sixty--not '65 [1965], October of '66' [1966], excuse me, October of '66 [1966], I went to Vietnam. My orders were to go to Ubon Air Base, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. And if I had gotten there, I would have flown for [Daniel] Chappie James [Jr; fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, who in 1975 became the first black American to reach the rank of four-star general] and Robin Olds [fighter pilot and general officer in the U.S. Air Force], two fighter pilots who ran the wing up there. And this would have been primarily, I would have flown Air cap over North Vietnam, primarily, you know, shooting down MiGs, defending thuds [fighter bomber], F-105s, that sort of thing.$$You said, "if" you had gotten there?$$Yeah, I didn't get there. I'll tell you why.$$Okay.$$But that's where I was assigned. So, once I got the wife and kids up in Philadelphia, matter of fact, I left and they were still living with my parents [Harriett Lolita Brice Blueford and Guion Bluford, Sr.] 'cause they had--we didn't have enough time to get an apartment for 'em, and then I left. I was gone for nine months. I went from there to, I flew from there to Travis Air Force Base in California. I hopped a transport with, full of military guys going to Vietnam. The airplane flew from California to Hawaii. We got off the airplane in Hawaii just long enough to stretch our legs, and then we flew from there to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, great big Air Force base in the Philippines. I got to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, got off the airplane and they said, have you gone through jungle survival training? And I said, no. So they slowed me up about a week or so, and I took a jungle survival course at Clark, which was exciting, you know, learn how to eat, how to live in the jungle, took classes, did escape and evasion, how to escape and evade in the jungle, POW [prisoner of war] training, all that sort of stuff. While I was there, they changed my orders. They flipped me from there to 12th Tact Fighter Wing, Cam Ranh Bay [Vietnam]. 12th Tact Fighter Wing had deployed all, the whole wing deployed to Cam Ranh Bay. And the, the members of the wing were all finishing up their assignment, and they were coming back. They needed people to replace 'em. And so instead of going to Ubon, Thailand, I went to Cam Ranh Bay and South Vietnam, Twelfth Tact Fighter Wing, a wing of maybe four squadrons and F-4C Phantoms. So we must have had eighty fighters, great, great big fighter base. It was also a transport base, lots of military transports go in there. We had a hospital there, a major hospital facility there, and the [U.S.] Navy had a port there. So it was a great, big--it was a major base. So I flew nine months in Vietnam, and I flew out of Cam Ranh Bay, 144 missions total, dropped bombs all over Southeast Asia, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos. I had sixty-five missions over North Vietnam. Primarily, they were air cover. When I did fly that way, we would take off out of Cam Ranh Bay and fly North. We would refuel just, just below the DMZ [The Korean Demilitarized Zone] between North and South Vietnam, and go up and fly six hour mission, air cap, come back, refuel coming back and then come home, good six-hour mission, did long missions. So lots of triple A. I still remember being shot at by a 85 millimeter. I still remember my last mission where I got deployed, scrambled off the alert path. We had two or three fighters that sat on the alert pad. And as, and they would assign you to the alert pad, which would mean you live in trailers out near the runway, and they would scramble fighters in, if they had an emergency some place. I still remember being scrambled and dropping bombs on active, triple A site in the DMZ between the North and South Vietnam. I still remember seeing all those tracers and all that sort of stuff, still remember flying, coming home one day and having a wing, a bullet hole in the wing. The best missions flying out of Cam Ranh Bay were ground support and supporting the ground guys. You'd fly in--see the [U.S.] Army guys all ready to take a piece of real estate, and you drop bombs on 'em, you drop 500-pound slicks as well high drag bombs, fired rockets. We had, the airplane didn't have a internal gun. So if we had to stray, we had to carry a gun pod which worked some of the time and which didn't work some of the time. It was nine months of doing that.$I was also very involved with the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association]. In the summertime, my mother [Harriet Lolita Brice Bluford] would give me some money. I would hop the bus and L [subway] and go to the Central Y [YMCA], downtown Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]. And, and that was a major event, you know, in the summertime. I learned how to swim at the Y. I worked out, and they had calisthenics and gym activity, played basketball. I learned to play checkers and chess and ping pong, and I got good enough at checkers--at ping pong and chess that when I was in high school, I was on the Chess Team and on the Ping Pong Team. So it had that. The YMCA was also a major factor in my life because I learned how to make model airplanes, part of being at the Y. We'd get on, I'd get up and go to the Y every day. It would be a full-day activity. But part of it was, I made model airplanes and ships and so forth and so on. So my model building developed at the Y, and that led to my strong interest in airplanes and my desire to eventually, to be an aerospace engineer. Plus, the fact that I liked math, I really like--I'm a math guy. So a combination of all of that just drove me towards being what I wanted to be, an aerospace engineer. And then you copy--you put on top of that the fact that I had a father [Guion Bluford, Sr.] who was a mechanical engineer. Not only was he a mechanical engineer, but he loved what he did. He loved what he did.$$Yeah, I read that he would come, he would leave the house excited every morning.$$Oh, he was, he, he enjoyed--he never brought the, he never brought his work home, but I knew he loved what he did. And that was, that was a very motivating factor for me because that's why I sort of said, "Do what you love, and love what you do," you know, so. So I grew up in that world.