Research Scientist and Astronaut
Dr. Ronald E. McNair forged a remarkable career as a research scientist. He was in the forefront of laser technology with applications in the fields of satellite communications and the science of flight in outer space. He was not only a pioneering astronaut, but also a role model and proponent of education. A native of Lake City, Ron McNair was always a gifted student. The son of an auto mechanic who never finished high school, McNair was valedictorian of his high school class. But he also lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. Another of his great loves was playing the saxophone in the Carver High School jazz band.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude from North Carolina A&T, McNair became a Ford Foundation Fellow and a Presidential Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a doctorate in physics in 1976. An expert in laser technology, Dr. McNair was chosen from a pool of 1,000 applicants to be a member of NASA's space shuttle program in 1978. In February 1984, he completed his first space mission on the Challenger, receiving recognition as the world's first orbital cameraman. He filmed "The Space Shuttle: An American Odyssey." Tragically on January 28, 1986, the whole world watched in horror as astronaut Ron McNair was killed in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Although his life was relatively short, his work and accomplishments will live as a testament to young people. He challenged young people to study and work hard. He told students, "You can achieve your dreams. Look at me, a humble country boy. If I can do it you can do it too." Today, students in his home town of Lake City are achieving their dreams at the Ronald E. McNair Junior High School. In June 1986, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology honored their former graduate by naming their space and science building after him. On November 8, 1986, he was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Science and Technology and in 1988 the largest planetarium in the Southeast, the Davis Planetarium in Jackson, Mississippi, named its theater the Ronald E. McNair Space Theater.