Credit: NASA (Source: NASA on the Commons - Flickr)

Today we celebrate the birthday of former NASA astronaut Guion Bluford, the first African-American in history to travel to the stars!

Born in Philadelphia in 1942, Guion Bluford graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1964 with a degree in aerospace engineering. After college, Bluford served as a pilot in the United States Air Force. During Vietnam, he was assigned to the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron, known today as the 557th Flying Training Squadron. He participated in over 140 combat missions during his service in Vietnam.

After the war, Bluford attended the Air Force Institute of Technology, where he earned his Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1974 and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 1978. In 1979, he was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program.

In 1983, Bluford officially became the first African-American to travel to outer space, serving as a mission specialist for the STS-8 mission. Interestingly, Bluford was actually a bit reluctant to blaze that particular trail. “It might be a bad thing to be first, if you stop and think about it,” he told the Washington Post in 1983. “It might be better to be second or third because then you can enjoy it and disappear — return to the society you came out of without someone always poking you in the side and saying you were the first.”

Nevertheless, STS-8 was a major success. The crew successfully completed all their primary objectives, including the deployment of an Indian communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit, and Bluford returned to Earth a bona fide hero.

Prior to retiring from both NASA and the Air Force in 1993, Bluford flew three more missions to space: STS-61-A, STS-39 and STS-53.

Bluford has racked up an impressive number of awards over the course of his life. During his career in the Air Force, he was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and more. In 1992, he was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. Two years later, he received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. He was later inducted into both the International Space Hall of Fame and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Needless to say, Guion Bluford is a remarkable man whose extraordinary life serves as an example to all who aspire to greatness. Here’s hoping he has a wonderful birthday!