First African-American in Space Among Four Joining Astronaut Hall of Fame
2010 class of Astronaut Hall of Fame inductees: Guy Bluford, Ken Bowersox, Frank Culbertson and Kathy Thornton
Credit: NASA/collectSPACE.com

The first African-American to fly in space, along with three other accomplished astronauts, are set to join the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in June.

The ninth class of space shuttle astronauts to be added to the Hall's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo ranks since 2001, the 2010 inductees will increase the Florida facility's total number of honorees to 77. An induction ceremony planned for June 5, 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center will reunite many of the astronauts to celebrate the enshrinement of Guy Bluford, Ken Bowersox, Frank Culbertson and Kathy Thornton.

The four astronauts were chosen by a committee of more than 80 retired NASA officials, historians, journalists and all the members of the Hall of Fame, as overseen by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. To be eligible for consideration this year, the astronauts needed to have made their first flight in 1992 or earlier; have been retired from flight status as a NASA commander, pilot or mission specialist for at least five years; be a U.S. citizen; and have orbited the Earth at least once.

According to the Foundation, which will host a gala dinner honoring the 2010 class the evening prior to the induction, candidates were selected not only for their contributions to the space program during their active astronaut careers but also after their retirement.

Blazing a trail into the night

Guion "Guy" Bluford became the first African-American in space when he joined the crew of the first space shuttle mission to launch and land at night.

"We had to, as a crew, figure out the techniques that were required to launch the thing at night and, as well as land the thing at night," Dr. Bluford told collectSPACE.com in 2002 on the anniversary of his 1983 STS-8 mission, which was dedicated to deploying a multipurpose India-built satellite and conducting medical measurements to understand the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

Bluford's first flight and the three that followed also blazed the path forward into space for African-Americans.

"I feel very proud of being a trailblazer with reference to spaceflight, particularly for African-Americans," he said. "I recognize I was one of several African-Americans that came into the program, and I think we have all made significant contributions to the program."

Bluford's other missions included the first of the German-directed Spacelab science flights (STS-61A in 1985) and two Department of Defense-dedicated missions (STS-39 in 1991 and STS-53 in 1992).

After retiring from NASA in 1993, Bluford took posts in the aerospace sector, and for the past 16 years, has served on several industry boards. Currently, he serves as the president of Aerospace Technology Group, an engineering consulting organization in Ohio, and is associated with the Coalition for Space Exploration.

Continue reading about Ken Bowersox, Frank Culbertson and Kathy Thornton at collectSPACE.com.

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