Bluford told The Houston Chronicle “I don’t know what I expected, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get more and more African Americans in the future coming into the astronaut program.”
As the Chronicle reported, Bluford and others said that a big barrier is education, as Black students are underrepresented in STEM careers, which are prerequisites for the astronaut program. In addition to this, there have only been 16 Black people to fly with the space program, so visibility is also a factor. However, the Black astronauts who have flown are a tight group, often checking in with each other.
President Kennedy began the push to include Black astronauts by picking Ed Dwight to train as an experimental test pilot in hopes that he would become an astronaut. The assassination of Kennedy in 1963 significantly hampered these developments and Dwight eventually left NASA and became a world famous sculptor.
Leland Melvin, an executive producer of The Space Race, a documentary about the experiences of Black American astronauts, told the Chronicle, “They (Russia) flew this Afro-Cuban to space and they used it as propaganda against us to get Black people to come to live in the (USSR). No one really knows about that history of the space race.”
In 1985, five years after the Russians sent Afro-Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez into micro-gravity, Frederick Gregory became the first Black American astronaut to pilot a shuttle.
Bluford sees it as his responsibility to encourage Black students to get into aerospace and remarked to the Houston Chronicle that he had not seen very many other Black aerospace engineers during his time as an aerospace engineer.
NASA commemorated Bluford in a statement: “While former NASA astronaut Guy Bluford is the first African American to go to space, his legacy is remembered with a host of African American pilots, engineers, scientists and others who have continued to explore the cosmos. When we enable individuals to inclusively participate, we provide space for all possible talent, skills, knowledge, perspectives, ideas, thinking, problem-solving and innovations.”
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Source: Black Enterprise