African Americans in the Space Program
Stock image of Mendez, the first person of African descent to go into space, with crew of the Soyuz 38.
While Bluford was the first African American in space, he was not actually the first person of African descent to achieve this feat. Just as Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was a few months ahead of Shepard, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez was a few years ahead of Bluford. Mendez, a Cuban cosmonaut, traveled into space in 1980 on the Soyuz 38, launched by the USSR in cooperation with Cuba. While aboard the Soyuz, he studied the causes of Space Adaptation Syndrome and also carried out research aimed at benefiting Cuba's sugar industry. Mendez, a member of the Cuban Communist Party, became in 1980 a member of Cuba's legislative body and, in 1982, chief of the Cuban military's foreign relations department. He was awarded the title Hero of the Republic of Cuba and the Order of Lenin, the Soviet Union's highest honor.