Ronald Ervin McNair was born on Oct. 21, 1950 in Lake City, S.C. He attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro where, in 1971, he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in physics. In 1976, he earned his doctorate degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. McNair’s many distinctions include: Presidential Scholar (1967-71), Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-74) and National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974-75). He was also named Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year (1975), was honored as the Distinguished National Scientist by the National Society of Black Professional Engineers (1979) and received the Friend Of Freedom Award (1981).
McNair was nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. In 1978, he was one of 35 applicants selected from a pool of 10,000 for NASA’s space shuttle program. On his first space shuttle mission in February 1984, McNair orbited the earth 122 times aboard Challenger. He was the second African American to fly in space.
He received three honorary doctorates and was also a sixth-degree karate black belt and an accomplished jazz saxophonist.
On the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, McNair and six other crew members died in an explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.