Ronald McNair


Ronald McNair
Ronald McNair (S78-35300).jpg
Ronald Erwin McNair

(1950-10-21)October 21, 1950
DiedJanuary 28, 1986(1986-01-28) (aged 35)
Resting placeRonald E. McNair Memorial Park, Lake City, South Carolina, U.S.
AwardsCongressional Space Medal of Honor
Space career
NASA Astronaut
Time in space
7d 23h 15m
Selection1978 NASA Group
MissionsSTS-41-B, STS-51-L
Mission insignia
Sts-41-b-patch.png STS-51-L-patch-small.png
First three African-American astronauts to go to space, including McNair, Guy Bluford and Fred Gregory from the class of 1978 selection of astronauts.

Ronald Erwin McNair (October 21, 1950 – January 28, 1986) was an American NASA astronaut and physicist. He died during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on mission STS-51-L, in which he was serving as one of three mission specialists in a crew of seven.

Prior to the Challenger disaster, he flew as a mission specialist on STS-41-B aboard Challenger from February 3 to February 11, 1984, becoming the second African American to fly in space.


McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, to Pearl M. and Carl C. McNair. He had two brothers, Carl and Eric A. McNair. In the summer of 1959, he refused to leave the segregated Lake City Public Library without being allowed to check out his books. After the police and his mother were called, he was allowed to borrow books from the library; the building that housed the library at the time is now named after him.[1] A children's book, Ron's Big Mission, offers a fictionalized account of this event. His brother, Carl also wrote the official biography, In the Spirit of Ronald E. McNair—Astronaut: An American Hero.

McNair graduated as valedictorian of Carver High School in 1967.[2]

In 1971, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering physics, magna cum laude, from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.[3]

In 1976, he received a Ph.D. degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the guidance of Michael Feld, becoming nationally recognised for his work in the field of laser physics.

After graduation from MIT (receiving four honorary doctorates, a score of fellowships and commendations while achieving a 6th-degree black belt in taekwondo), he became a staff physicist at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, California.

McNair was a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity[3] and a member of the Bahá'í Faith.[4]

Astronaut career

In 1978, McNair was selected as one of thirty-five applicants from a pool of ten thousand for the NASA astronaut program. He flew as a mission specialist on STS-41-B aboard Challenger from February 3 to February 11, 1984, becoming the second African American to fly in space.

Astronaut candidates Ron McNair, Guy Bluford, and Fred Gregory wearing Apollo spacesuits, May 1978

Challenger disaster

Following the STS-41-B mission, McNair was selected for STS-51-L as one of three mission specialists in a crew of seven. The mission launched on January 28, 1986. He was killed when Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean 73 seconds after liftoff. The disintegration also killed six other crew members.[5]

He was initially buried at Rest Lawn Memorial Park in Lake City, South Carolina. His remains were disinterred in 2004 and moved to Ronald E. McNair Memorial Park, located elsewhere in Lake City.[6]

Music in space

McNair was an accomplished saxophonist.

Before his last fateful space mission, he had worked with the composer Jean-Michel Jarre on a piece of music for Jarre's then-upcoming album Rendez-Vous. It was intended that he would record his saxophone solo onboard the Challenger, which would have made McNair's solo the first original piece of music to have been recorded in space[7] (although the song "Jingle Bells" had been played on a harmonica during an earlier Gemini 6 spaceflight). However, the recording was never made, as the flight ended in the disaster and the deaths of its entire crew. The final track on Rendez-Vous, "Last Rendez-Vous," has the subtitle "Ron's Piece," and the liner notes include a dedication from Jarre: "Ron was so excited about the piece that he rehearsed it continuously until the last moment. May the memory of my friend the astronaut and the artist Ron McNair live on through this piece."[8] Ron McNair was supposed to have taken part in Jarre's Rendez-vous Houston concert through a live feed from the orbiting Shuttlecraft.

Public honors

McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004, along with all crew members lost in the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Dr. Ronald E. McNair memorial in his hometown, Lake City, South Carolina
Dr. Ronald E. McNair tomb in his hometown, Lake City, South Carolina
Ronald McNair Park in Brooklyn, New York City
Ronald E. McNair South Central Police Station of the Houston Police Department in Houston, Texas

A variety of public places, people and programs have been renamed in honor of McNair.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Astronaut's Brother Recalls A Man Who Dreamed Big". NPR. January 28, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Bruce (January 28, 2011). "Small SC town pauses to remember astronaut son". Retrieved January 29, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b * "RONALD E. MCNAIR (PH.D.), NASA ASTRONAUT (DECEASED)" (PDF). NASA. December 2003. Retrieved April 12, 2021.
  4. ^ "BHM Remembers: Dr. Ronald McNair". Black History Month 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  5. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Ronald E. McNair 12/03". February 11, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  6. ^ "Dr. Ronald e. McNair Memorial".
  7. ^ "The history of synthpop". Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  8. ^ "Challenger 25th Anniversary Tribute Song". Between Two Worlds. January 28, 2011. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  9. ^ Popova, Maria, "Eyes on the Stars: Astronaut Ronald McNair, Who Perished in the Challenger Disaster, Remembered by His Brother in an Affectionate Animated Short Film", Brain Pickings.
  10. ^ "Eyes on the Stars". StoryCorps. January 28, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2021. On January 28, 1986, NASA Challenger mission STS-51-L ended in tragedy when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. On board was physicist Ronald E. McNair, who was the second African American person to enter space. But first, he was a kid with big dreams in Lake City, South Carolina.
  11. ^ Rauch, Mike; Rauch, Tim (April 4, 2013), Eyes on the Stars (Documentary, Animation, Short, Biography, Drama, Family), retrieved February 22, 2021
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 18, 2014. Retrieved September 16, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), last accessed September 16, 2013.
  13. ^ Hague, Jim. "In a Class By Itself". Jersey City Magazine, Spring & Summer 2011, p. 55.
  14. ^ "Fourth-Masonic-District". Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 19, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ Bryan, Shevaun (August 5, 2014). "New school, old building: first day of school at McNair Junior High". Huntsville, AL: WHNT-TV. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  17. ^ Los Robles Ronald McNair Academy Archived 2009-09-01 at the Wayback Machine, accessed January 28, 2011.
  18. ^ "Alvin ISD Board Members Approve New Facility Name", Alvin Independent School District.
  19. ^ "Dr. Ronald E. McNair Park, Crown Heights, Brooklyn". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  20. ^ "Historical Sign Listings : NYC Parks". Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  21. ^ Walsh, Kevin "DR. RONALD E. McNAIR PARK, Prospect Heights" Forgotten-NY January 28, 2018
  22. ^ "Dr. Ronald McNair Playground". Retrieved November 23, 2012.
  23. ^ Dixon, Tonya (January 16, 2020). "Annual Celebration of Ronald McNair by N.C. A&T to be Held Jan. 28" (Press release). North Carolina A&T State University. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  24. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – About". University of Central Florida. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  25. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – Home Page". May 9, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  26. ^ "The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Scholars Program – Program Services". Retrieved May 2, 2018.

External links

  • McNair Foundation to encourage and mentor science, mathematics and technology students
  • Spacefacts biography of Ronald McNair
  • Ronald E. McNair Post – Baccalaureate Achievement Program
  • "RONALD E. MCNAIR (PH.D.), NASA ASTRONAUT (DECEASED)" (PDF). NASA. December 2003. Retrieved April 12, 2021.
  • Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program
  • StoryCorps: Astronaut's Brother Recalls A Man Who Dreamed Big