From StoryCorps, this animated video features Carl McNair telling the story of his brother Ronald, an African American kid in the 1950s who set his sights on the stars.
On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart after liftoff, taking the lives of all seven crew members, including that of Dr. Ronald E. McNair. McNair was one of four astronauts from South Carolina, and the doomed Challenger flight would have been his second shuttle mission into space.
Born in Lake City, S.C. in 1950, he was graduated as valedictorian of Carver High School in 1967 before attending North Carolina A&T State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and went on to receive a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. In addition to becoming nationally recognized for his work in laser physics, McNair also was an accomplished saxophonist and a fifth degree black belt in karate.
Dr. McNair presents his notebook for shuttle mission STS-41B to the State Museum in 1985.
McNair was accepted into the NASA astronaut program in 1978 and took his first trip into space aboard the Challenger in 1984 (mission STS-41B). While on this shuttle mission he became the first astronaut to perform experiments using a laser, and was the first to use the Canadarm (a giant robotic arm) to position crewmen around Challenger’s payload bay.
Laser ranging device used by McNair while in space. Currently on exhibit at the State Museum.
After his death, NASA named a crater on the moon after McNair. Also, numerous schools were named in his memory and the U.S. Department of Education created the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program for low income or first-generation college students. Recently, the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center opened in his hometown of Lake City, SC.