Ronald McNair

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

(1950-10-21)October 21, 1950
DiedJanuary 28, 1986(1986-01-28) (aged 35)
North Atlantic Ocean
Resting placeRonald E. McNair Memorial Park, Lake City, South Carolina, U.S.
Alma materNorth Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, B.S. in engineering physics, 1971.[1] Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D. in Physics, 1976
AwardsCongressional Space Medal of Honor
Space career
NASA Astronaut
Time in space
7d 23h 15m
Selection1978 NASA Group
MissionsSTS-41-B, STS-51-L (disaster)
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 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[1] At North Carolina A&T, he studied under professor Donald Edwards, who had established the physics curriculum at the university.[4]

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. 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.[5]

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[1] and a member of the Bahá'í Faith.[6][7]

Astronaut career[edit]

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.[8] 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.

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

Challenger disaster[edit]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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 onboard the Challenger, which would have made McNair's solo the first original piece of music to have been recorded in space[11] (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."[12] 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[edit]

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[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Ronald E. McNair (Ph.D.), NASA Astronaut (Deceased)" (PDF). December 2003. Retrieved April 12, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Astronaut's Brother Recalls A Man Who Dreamed Big". NPR. January 28, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Smith, Bruce (January 28, 2011). "Small SC town pauses to remember astronaut son". Retrieved January 29, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Feinsilver, Ethan (January 28, 1999). "Speakers Link Ronald McNair to Today's A&T: An Annual Tribute to the Late Challenger Astronaut Seeks to Inspire Students at His Alma Mater". Greensboro News & Record. Retrieved August 18, 2022.
  5. ^ "Ronald McNair Biography". September 14, 2020. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  6. ^ "BHM Remembers: Dr. Ronald McNair". Black History Month 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  7. ^ Venters, Louis E., the III (2010). Most great reconstruction: The Bahá'í faith in Jim Crow South Carolina, 1898-1965 (Thesis). Colleges of Arts and Sciences University of South Carolina. ProQuest 3402846.
  8. ^ "Space History Photo: Nichelle Nichols, NASA Recruiter". January 3, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Ronald E. McNair 12/03". February 11, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  10. ^ "Dr. Ronald e. McNair Memorial".
  11. ^ "The history of synthpop". Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  12. ^ "Challenger 25th Anniversary Tribute Song". Between Two Worlds. January 28, 2011. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  13. ^ Popova, Maria (June 6, 2016). "Eyes on the Stars: Astronaut Ronald McNair, Who Perished in the Challenger Disaster, Remembered by His Brother in an Affectionate Animated Short Film".
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Rauch, Mike; Rauch, Tim (April 4, 2013). "Eyes on the Stars". (Documentary, Animation, Short, Biography, Drama, Family). Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  16. ^ "City of El Lago Park Information". Archived from the original on March 18, 2014. Retrieved September 16, 2013., last accessed September 16, 2013.
  17. ^ Hague, Jim. "In a Class By Itself". Jersey City Magazine, Spring & Summer 2011, p. 55.
  18. ^ "Fourth-Masonic-District". Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  19. ^ "McNair Elementary School". Archived from the original on April 19, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2014.
  20. ^ "Alvin ISD Board Members Approve New Facility Name". Alvin Independent School District.
  21. ^ Bryan, Shevaun (August 5, 2014). "New school, old building: first day of school at McNair Junior High". Huntsville, Alabama: WHNT-TV. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  22. ^ "Los Robles Ronald McNair Academy". Archived from the original on September 1, 2009. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  23. ^ "Dr. Ronald E. McNair Park, Crown Heights, Brooklyn". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  24. ^ "Historical Sign Listings : NYC Parks". Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  25. ^ Walsh, Kevin (January 28, 2018). "Dr. Ronald E. McNair Park, Prospect Heights".
  26. ^ "Dr. Ronald McNair Playground". Retrieved November 23, 2012.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – About". University of Central Florida. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  29. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – Home Page". US Department of Education. May 9, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  30. ^ "The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Scholars Program – Program Services". Washington State University. Retrieved May 2, 2018.

External links[edit]