Ronald E. McNair was the unlikeliest of heroes and, although McNair's inspiring career
was cut short in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy in 1986, his legacy continues
in many ways.
Ronald Erwin McNair
Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, S.C., to Carl and Pearl
McNair. He attended North Carolina A&T State University, where he graduated magna
cum laude with a bachelor's degree in physics in 1971. McNair then enrolled in the
prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned his Ph.D. degree
in physics in 1976 at the age of 25.
McNair soon became a recognized expert in laser physics while working as staff physicist
with Hughes Research Laboratory. NASA selected him for the space shuttle program in
1978 and assigned him as mission specialist aboard the 1984 flight of the Challenger.
On January 28, 1986 during his second Challenger mission, McNair was serving as a mission specialist when the shuttle broke apart just
73 seconds into its flight. The shuttle disintegrated, and McNair and the shuttle's
six other crew members were killed in the tragedy.
Honors and Achievements
McNair received three honorary doctorate degrees and many fellowships and commendations.
These included Presidential Scholar, 1967-71; Ford Foundation Fellow, 1971-74; National
Fellowship Fund Fellow, 1974-75; named 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; as well as many others.
He also held a fifth-degree black belt in karate and was an accomplished jazz saxophonist.
He was married and had a son and a daughter.
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
After his death, Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This program is designed to prepare and encourage low-income, first-generation and
underrepresented students to enroll in a graduate program of study leading to a doctoral
degree and to consider careers in college teaching. This program is dedicated to the
high standard of achievement Ronald McNair's life represented.
RONALD E. MCNAIR (1950-1986) Biography
1950 – Born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, SC
1967 – Valedictorian, Carver High School
1971 – B.S., magna cum laude, engineering physics, NC A&T State University, 1971
1976 – Ph.D., physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Became staff physicist, Hughes
Research Lab, Malibu, CA.
1978 – Chosen as one of 35 applicants for the NASA astronaut program
1984 – Mission specialist, STS-41-B Challenger
1986 – Mission specialist, STS-51-LChallenger. Died January 28, 1986.