The Life of Ronald E. McNair
Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, to Carl and Pearl McNair. He attended North Carolina A&T State University where he graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. Degree in physics in 1971. McNair then enrolled in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976 at the age of 26, he earned his Ph.D. degree in physics.
McNair soon became a recognized expert in laser physics while working as a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratory. He was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978 and was a mission specialist aboard the 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger.
Aside from his academic achievements, McNair received three honorary doctorate degrees and many fellowships and commendations. These distinctions include: Presidential Scholar, 1967-71; Ford Foundation Fellow, 1971-74; National Fellowship Fund Fellow, 1974-75; Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year, 1975; Distinguished National Scientist, National Society of Black Professional Engineers, 1969; and the Friend of Freedom Award, 1981; as well as many others. McNair 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.
After his death in the Challenger space shuttle accident in January 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Bacclaureate Achievement program to encourage minority and income eligible first generation college students to enroll in graduate studies.