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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.

Ronald Erwin McNair
Ronald McNair (S78-35300).jpg
Born(1950-10-21)October 21, 1950
DiedJanuary 28, 1986(1986-01-28) (aged 35)
Resting placeRest Lawn Memorial Park, Lake City, SC
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
Some of NASA's first African-American astronauts including Dr. Ronald McNair, Guy Bluford and Fred Gregory from the class of 1978 selection of astronauts.

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.

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 73 seconds after liftoff.[1]

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.[2]

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 Bahá'í Faith.[3]

He was survived by his wife, Cheryl, daughter Joy Charey McNair and son Reginald Ervin McNair. McNair was a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.[2] He's buried at the Rest Lawn Memorial Park in where he was born.


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.[4] A children's book, Ron's Big Mission, offers a fictionalized account of this event. His brother, Carl S., 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.[5]

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

Music in spaceEdit

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 honorsEdit

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Ronald E. McNair 12/03". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Ronald E. McNair Bio". NASA. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b "Astronaut's Brother Recalls A Man Who Dreamed Big". January 28, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Bruce (January 28, 2011). "Small SC town pauses to remember astronaut son". Retrieved January 29, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  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. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-18. Retrieved 2013-09-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), 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". Archived from the original on 2017-01-18. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-19. Retrieved 2014-04-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  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. ^ Walsh, Kevin "DR. RONALD E. McNAIR PARK, Prospect Heights" Forgotten-NY January 28, 2018
  18. ^ "Dr. Ronald McNair Playground". Retrieved November 23, 2012.
  19. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – Home Page". May 9, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  20. ^ "TRIO – Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program – About". University of Central Florida. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  21. ^ "The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Scholars Program – Program Services". Retrieved May 2, 2018.

External linksEdit