African Americans in the Space Program
Guion S. Bluford Jr., the first African American to go into space, in flight. Photo courtesy of NASA.
It would take another fifteen years for African Americans to have the chance to travel into space. This time the opportunity went to Guion S. Bluford Jr., Frederick Gregory, and Ronald E. McNair, who joined the NASA training program that year. Their qualifications were impeccable: they were three of just 35 people selected for the training—out of more 10,000 applicants. Bluford, who had a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the Air Force's Institute of Technology, became the first African American man to actually go to space, which he did in 1983 aboard the Challenger, and three other times between then and 1993, when he retired. The African American community celebrated Bluford's mission, as did many others, including then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The President phoned Bluford on the second day of his mission, saying, "You are paving the way for many others and making it plain that we are in an era of brotherhood here in our land." The flight was a "milestone," according to NASA, in that it was the first shuttle to launch and return at night.