Aug. 30, 1983
Guion S. Bluford Jr. became the first Black astronaut in space, four years after beginning his training. The Vietnam War pilot who flew 144 combat missions boarded the Challenger on a rainy morning. Despite the weather, crowds flocked to glimpse history.
“People came from all over to watch this launch because I was flying,” he recalled in an interview with NASA. “I imagined them, all standing out there at 1:00 in the morning with their umbrellas, all asking the same question, ‘Why am I standing here?’”
After the Challenger began its ascent into space, howls could be heard coming from the cockpit. NASA officials finally realized it was Bluford. “I laughed and giggled all the way up,” he recalled. “It was such a fun ride.”
He returned to space three more times before retiring and founding The Aerospace Technology Group in 2002. A year later, he was pressed back into NASA service, this time to help investigate the fatal breakup of the Shuttle Columbia. In 2010, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.