Ronald McNair

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Ronald Erwin McNair
Ronald mcnair.jpg
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Born (1950-10-21)October 21, 1950
Lake City, South Carolina, U.S.
Died January 28, 1986(1986-01-28) (aged 35)
Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S.
Other occupation
Time in space
7d 23h 15m
Selection 1978 NASA Group
Missions STS-41-B, STS-51-L
Mission insignia
Sts-41-b-patch.png STS-51-L-patch-small.png
Awards Congressional Space Medal of Honor

Ronald Erwin McNair (October 21, 1950 – January 28, 1986) was an American physicist and NASA astronaut. He died during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on mission STS-51-L, where he was serving as the Mission Specialist. He is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and two children.


Born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, his parents were Pearl M. and Carl C. McNair. He had two brothers, Carl S. 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, which is now named after him.[1] A children's book, Ron's Big Mission, offers a fictionalized account of this event.

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 North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.[3] McNair was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.[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 recognized for his work in the field of laser physics.

He received four honorary doctorates, a score of fellowships and commendations and achieved a 6th degree black belt in taekwondo.

After graduation from MIT, he became a staff physicist at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, California. McNair was a member of the Bahá'í Faith.[4]

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


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

Following this mission, McNair was selected for STS-51-L, which launched on January 28, 1986, and was subsequently killed when Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean just 73 seconds after liftoff.[5]

Music in space[edit]

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 on board the Challenger, which would have made McNair's solo the first original piece of music to have been recorded in space[6] (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 disaster and the deaths of its entire crew. The last of the Rendez-Vous pieces, (Last Rendez-Vous) had the additional name "Ron's Piece". Ron McNair was supposed to take part in the concert through a live feed.

Public honors[edit]

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

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[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Astronaut's Brother Recalls A Man Who Dreamed Big". 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 Bio". NASA. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  4. ^ Venters, Louis E., the III (2010). Most great reconstruction: The Baha'i Faith in Jim Crow South Carolina, 1898–1965 (Thesis). Colleges of Arts and Sciences University of South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-243-74175-2. UMI Number: 3402846. 
  5. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Ronald E. McNair 12/03". Retrieved February 23, 2017. 
  6. ^ "The history of synthpop". Retrieved February 23, 2017. 
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^, last accessed September 16, 2013.
  9. ^ Hague, Jim. "In a Class By Itself". Jersey City Magazine, Spring & Summer 2011, p. 55.
  10. ^ "Fourth-Masonic-District". Retrieved February 23, 2017. 
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-19. Retrieved 2014-04-18. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Ronald McNair Academy Archived 2009-09-01 at the Wayback Machine., accessed January 28, 2011.
  14. ^ "Alvin ISD Board Members Approve New Facility Name", Alvin Independent School District.
  15. ^ "Dr. Ronald E. McNair Park, Crown Heights, Brooklyn". Retrieved February 23, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Historical Sign Listings : NYC Parks". Retrieved May 18, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Dr. Ronald McNair Playground". Retrieved November 23, 2012. 
  18. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – Home Page". May 9, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2012. 

External links[edit]