RONALD E. McNAIR 1950-1986
Ronald Erwin McNair was born on October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, to Carl and Pearl McNair. The house in which he was born had neither running water nor electricity. Although he grew up amidst crushing poverty, McNair always exhibited a deep thirst for scientific knowledge. After graduation from high school, he enrolled in North Carolina A&T State University. He graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in physics in 1971. McNair then enrolled in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976, at age 26, he earned his Ph.D. in physics.
While working as a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratory, he soon became a recognized expert in laser physics. In 1978, McNair realized his dream of becoming an astronaut; after being selected from a pool of 10,000 applicants for NASA's space shuttle program, he became the second African-American to fly in space. He served as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
In addition to his academic achievements, McNair received three honorary doctorate degrees and many fellowships and commendations. These included Presidential Scholar, 1967-1971; Ford Foundation Fellow, 1971-1974; National Fellowship Fund Fellow, 1974-1975; Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year, 1975; Distinguished National Scientist, National Society of Black Professional Engineers, 1979; and the Friend of Freedom Award, 1981. McNair also held a fifth degree back belt in karate and was an accomplished jazz saxophonist.
Ronald E. McNair was killed on January 28, 1986, in the Challenger accident which claimed the lives of the entire crew.