Penn State to honor astronaut Colonel Guion 'Guy' Bluford Jr.

Bluford, a 1964 Penn State graduate, will receive the 2021 Air Force ROTC Distinguished Alumnus Award and have an Innovation Park building dedicated in his name


By Sean Yoder and Ashley WennersHeron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Colonel Guion “Guy” Bluford Jr., who earned his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from Penn State in 1964 and became the first African American in space, will receive multiple honors from his alma mater this week in recognition of his significant professional achievements.

2021 Air Force ROTC Distinguished Alumnus Award

The public is invited to an event to honor Bluford from 5-6 p.m. on Oct. 6 in the Freeman Auditorium, HUB-Robeson Center. The event is supported by Penn State Air Force ROTC Detachment 720.

Bluford will receive the 2021 Air Force ROTC Distinguished Alumnus Award for his “exceptionally meritorious and superior service to the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration over 29 years,” according to the award description. The national award is given to one person annually. There are more than 140 AFROTC detachments in the United States that produce more than 3,000 officers each year.

Innovation Park at Penn State building dedication

On Oct. 8, 230 Innovation Blvd. at University Park will be named in honor of Bluford in an invitation-only ceremony. The building houses the Center for Innovation Metal Processing through Direct Digital Deposition, a collaborative effort between the Applied Research Laboratory, the College of Engineering and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The center facilitates the research and development of several additive manufacturing systems for the benefit of broad academic, government and industrial projects, as well as a state-of-the-art design studio and prototyping laboratory.

The ceremony will include remarks from Amy Pritchett, head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering; Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost; Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the College of Engineering; Janiyah R. Davis, third-year Schreyer Honors Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts and student representative on the Board of Trustees; and Kriston Ramdas, graduate student in aerospace engineering.

Bluford’s accomplishments

Bluford joined the NASA astronaut training program in 1978 as one of three African Americans in his class. Five years later, he flew his first mission on the Space Shuttle Challenger to launch an Indian communication and weather satellite and test the shuttle’s remote manipulator system during STS-8.

Born in Philadelphia in 1942, Bluford earned an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from Penn State in 1964 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant from the Penn State Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. He began flying for the Air Force in 1966 and flew 65 combat missions over North Vietnam and a total of 144 combat missions in his career. In 1974 he was accepted into the Air Force Institute of Technology and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in aerospace engineering. In his astronaut career, he logged 688 hours in space over four missions, with his final flight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1992. Before retiring as an astronaut, Bluford earned his master of business administration from University of Houston at Clear Lake in 1987.

Bluford has since served in multiple leadership roles across the aerospace industry, focusing on improving operation systems and safety in the field. He has also continued to advocate for underrepresented groups in engineering and science at both Penn State and across the country through his work with the Society of Distinguished Alumni and the Committee on Minority Activities.

Bluford’s decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, 10 Air Force Air Medals, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Institute of Technology’s Mervin E. Gross Award, Air Force Meritorious Service Award, two NASA Group Achievement Awards, Pennsylvania’s Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Space Flight Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service medal and The Pennsylvania State University Alumni Distinguished Alumni Award.


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Guion Bluford posing in astronaut suit in front of American Flag


Guy Bluford in space with Penn State banner