The first African-American astronaut to travel to space is Philly born and Penn State cultivated. 

Dr. Guion Bluford returned to his alma mater’s satellite campus, Penn State Harrisburg, on Thursday night after college junior and National Society of Black Engineers president Nicole Hill spent a year tracking him down. 

Bluford never realized that his aerospace engineering degree from Penn State would take him to such great heights. 

“I tell people all the time that Penn State was my launch pad,” he said. 

He shares this launch pad with Hill, who is studying electrical engineering. 

“We wanted someone who was big and someone who was of the STEM field and someone who was a Penn State Alum, and Dr. Bluford’s name was just screaming at us,” Hill said. 

Bluford’s accomplishments are also loud. He flew four missions with NASA in the 80s and 90s. Each of them was unique, but Bluford said his favorite moments in space remain the same. 

“I think the things that stand out for me are the view out the window and zero-g,” he said. 

He went where no African-American had been before, and although astronauts footprints are permanent anyway, Bluford said he didn’t realize he would leave such a deep imprint on future generations. 

“You don’t have too many people that look like us that you can just say, ‘well, I wanna be an engineer because he did it, and he’s like me.’ So, a lot of people in our club don’t have that type of role model,” Hill said. 

“I encourage people to find their niche, find their passion and chase it because that’s the thing you’re going to work hardest at,” Bluford said. 

Bluford worked hardest at aerospace engineering, but he said you don’t have to go to space to have out-of-this-world success. 

“Being a role model is important because other people look at you and say, ‘hey, he did that. So can I,” Bluford said. 

“It’s kind of like, ‘well, he did it. So, I can do it, too,” Hill added.