Ronald Erwin McNair
October 21, 1950
|Died||January 28, 1986 (aged 35)|
North Atlantic Ocean
|Resting place||Ronald E. McNair Memorial Park, Lake City, South Carolina, U.S.|
|Awards||Congressional Space Medal of Honor|
Time in space
|7d 23h 15m|
|Selection||1978 NASA Group|
|Missions||STS-41-B, STS-51-L (disaster)|
|Thesis||Energy absorption and vibrational heating in molecules following intense laser excitation (1977)|
|Doctoral advisor||Michael Stephen Feld|
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 11, 1984, becoming the second African American and the first Baháʼí 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. A children's book, Ron's Big Mission, offers a fictionalized account of this event. His brother Carl wrote Ronald's official biography, In the Spirit of Ronald E. McNair—Astronaut: An American Hero.
McNair graduated as valedictorian of Carver High School in 1967.
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. At North Carolina A&T, he studied under professor Donald Edwards, who had established the physics curriculum at the university.
In 1976, he received a PhD 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. Also in 1976, he won the AAU Karate gold medal. He would subsequently win five regional championships and earn a 5th degree black belt in karate.
McNair received four honorary doctorates, as well as a score of fellowships and commendations. He became a staff physicist at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, California.
McNair was a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and a member of the Bahá'í Faith.
In 1978, McNair was selected as one of thirty-five applicants from a pool of ten thousand for the NASA astronaut program. He was one of several astronauts recruited by Nichelle Nichols as part of a NASA effort to increase the number of minority and female astronauts. He flew as a mission specialist on STS-41-B aboard Challenger from February 3 to 11, 1984, becoming the second African American to fly in space.
Main article: Space Shuttle 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.
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.
Main article: 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 (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." McNair was supposed to have taken part in Jarre's Rendez-vous Houston concert through a live feed from the orbiting Shuttlecraft.
McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004, along with all crew members lost in the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
A variety of public places, people and programs have been renamed in honor of McNair.
McNair was married to Cheryl McNair, and the couple had two children. Cheryl is the founding director of the Challenger Center, which focuses on space science education.
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.