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    Astronaut shares a rare perspective

    By Times staff
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 20, 2003

    Proud to be an astronaut

    Guion Bluford Jr. stepped onto the Challenger and into history on Aug. 30, 1983. As the space shuttle rose that night and left Earth behind, Bluford became the first African-American in space.

    Bluford traveled on four shuttle missions and logged nearly 700 hours in space before he left the astronaut corps in 1993.

    These days, the 60-year-old Philadelphia native lives with his wife, Linda, outside of Cleveland, where he has formed a consulting firm called Aerospace Technology Group.

    Bluford is scheduled to speak tonight at 6:30 at the University of South Florida as part of Technology Week, sponsored by the local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

    On Wednesday, he spoke with St. Petersburg Times staff writer Brady Dennis about the Columbia tragedy, his career as a fighter pilot and the legacy he hopes to leave.

    Here are excerpts:

    What will you talk about tonight at USF?

    I'm probably going to discuss where NASA is going in the future, its part in building the international space station.

    What are your thoughts on the recent Columbia tragedy?

    I think we were all a bit shocked. It's very important that we get to the cause of the problem. There's also concern about the families as well as the astronauts that got killed.

    Where do you think NASA should go from here?

    NASA needs to move forward on determining the cause and then continue to build the international space station. That's their main goal, and only the shuttle can be used to build the international space station.

    We're only about halfway through the building process. And there are currently three astronauts orbiting in the space station. So I think that should be the main focus.

    You are known above all as the first African-American in space. How do you view that achievement? What does it mean to you?

    It's attracted a lot of attention. I'm proud to be in that role, proud to be a vanguard and a role model for those who follow. We have a fair number of black Americans who have followed in my footsteps. I'm very proud of that.

    How did the experience change your life?

    You get a more global view of the world when you are an astronaut. You are looking down on the Earth from 150,200 miles up. The primary change for me was a more global perspective.

    Having been a pilot in the military, what are your views on Iraq?

    I understand what's going on and I'm supportive of that. Hopefully, it will work itself out.

    What do people not know about you?

    People think of me as an astronaut. I'm really an aeronautical engineer who's been a fighter pilot.

    I take a great deal of pride in that as well as being an astronaut. That's how my career got started.

    What do you do in your spare time?

    I like scuba diving. I like reading. I like to work out, and I like to travel.

    When your life is over, how would you like to be remembered?

    As an aerospace engineer and as the first African-American in space.

    I'd say you already have that covered.

    Right. I'm not sure I can really expand on that.

    If you go

    Tonight's lecture is scheduled for 6:30 at the USF Marshall Center ballroom. It is free and open to the public.

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