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New documentary tells story of first African-American astronaut in space

Smithsonian film details struggle between U.S., USSR space programs amid civil rights movement

On Challenger's middeck, Mission Specialist Guion "Guy" Bluford, assists Dr. William E. Thornton (out of frame) with a medical test that requires use of the treadmill exercising device designed for spaceflight by the STS-8 medical doctor on Sept. 5, 1983. Guy Bluford was the first African-American astronaut to fly into space. (Image Credit: NASA)
On Challenger's middeck, Mission Specialist Guion "Guy" Bluford, assists Dr. William E. Thornton (out of frame) with a medical test that requires use of the treadmill exercising device designed for spaceflight by the STS-8 medical doctor on Sept. 5, 1983. Guy Bluford was the first African-American astronaut to fly into space. (Image Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union had a lesser-known battle during which each superpower struggled to get the first person of color into space.

The Smithsonian Channel documentary "Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier” tells the story of how the civil rights movement and the space race collided.

The documentary premieres Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian Channel.

The film details a period in the 1960s when the U.S. civil rights movement was in full swing and the USSR was taking advantage of the situation to advocate Communism as the better form of government.

The U.S. was not the first country to fly a person of color. In 1980, Russia flew the first person of African heritage, Arnaldo Tamayo Menedez, a Cuban military officer, in space.

It took 14 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing for the U.S. to send an African-American into space.

Guion Bluford became the first African American in space when he launched on the Space Shuttle Challenger on August 30, 1983.

In 1998, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to journey to space.

Of the more than 350 Americans who have been to space only 14 are black.

To watch a trailer of the documentary, click here.