Today we will visit with Dr. Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986), the second Black American in space.

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Dr. Ronald E. McNair

Dr. Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986)

Ronald E. McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina. Died January 28, 1986. Survived by wife Cheryl, & two children. Was 5th degree black belt Karate instructor & performing jazz saxophonist. Enjoyed running, boxing, football, playing cards, & cooking.

Ronald E. McNair graduated from Carver High School, Lake City, South Carolina, in 1967; received BS in Physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971 and Ph.D. in Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976; received honorary doctorate of Laws from NC A&T State University in 1978, an honorary doctorate of Science from Morris College in 1980, & an honorary doctorate of science from the University of South Carolina in 1984.

Graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina A&T (‘71) – named Presidential Scholar (‘67-’71), Ford Foundation Fellow (‘71-’74), National Fellowship Fund Fellow (‘74-’75), NATO Fellow (‘75) – winner of Omega Psi Phi Scholar of Year Award (‘75), Los Angeles Public School System’s Service Commendation (‘79), Distinguished Alumni Award (‘79), National Society of Black Professional Engineers Distinguished National Scientist Award (‘79), Friend of Freedom Award (‘81), Who’s Who Among Black Americans (‘80), an AAU Karate Gold Medal (‘76), 5 Regional Blackbelt Karate Championships.

While at MIT, Dr. Ronald E. McNair performed some of earliest development of chemical HF/DF & high-pressure CO lasers. His later experiments & theoretical analysis on the interaction of intense CO2 laser radiation with molecular gases provided new understandings & applications for highly excited polyatomic molecules.

In ‘75, studied laser physics with many authorities in the field at E’cole D’ete Theorique de Physique, Les Houches, France. Published several papers in areas of lasers & molecular spectroscopy & gave many presentations in US and abroad.

Following graduation from MIT, became a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California. Assignments included development of lasers for isotope separation & photochemistry utilizing non-linear interactions in low-temperature liquids & optical pumping techniques. Also conducted research on electro-optic laser modulation for satellite-to-satellite space communications, the construction of ultra-fast infrared detectors, ultraviolet atmospheric remote sensing, & scientific foundations of the martial arts.

Selected as astronaut candidate by NASA in January ‘78, Ronald E. McNair completed 1-year training & evaluation period in August ‘79, qualifying for assignment as mission specialist astronaut on Space Shuttle flight crews.

First flew as mission specialist on STS 41-B launched from Kennedy Space Center on February 3, ‘84. Crew included spacecraft commander, Mr. Vance Brand, the pilot, Cdr. Robert L. Gibson, & fellow mission specialists, Capt. Bruce McCandless II, & Lt. Col. Robert L. Stewart. The flight accomplished proper shuttle deployment of two Hughes 376 communications satellites, & the flight testing of rendezvous sensors & computer programs. Marked the first flight of the Manned Maneuvering Unit & first use of the Canadian arm (operated by McNair) to position EVA crewman around Challenger’s payload bay. Included were German SPAS-01 Satellite, acoustic levitation & chemical separation experiments, Cinema 360 motion picture filming, five Getaway Specials, & numerous mid-deck experiments – all of which Dr. McNair assumed primary responsibility. Challenger culminated in first landing on the runway at Kennedy Space Center on February 11, ’84.

Dr. Ronald E. McNair died on January 28, ‘86 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, also taking the lives of the spacecraft commander, Mr. F.R. Scobee, the pilot, Commander M.J. Smith (USN), mission specialists, Lieutenant Colonel E.S. Onizuka (USAF), & Dr. J.A. Resnik, & two civilian payload specialists, Mr. G.B. Jarvis and Mrs. S. C. McAuliffe.

Thanks for your attention.


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