As we wind down our observance of Black History Month, here is a tribute to South Carolina Astronaut Ronald MacNair who was killed in the Challenger explosion in January, 1986. This piece ran orginally on January 28, 2011, the 25th anniversary of that event.
It was 25 years ago today that the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded taking the lives of the seven astronauts aboard. In addition to the first “Teacher in Space”, Krista MacAuliffe,one of the other lives lost was South Carolina native Ronald McNair.
McNair was born in Lake City, in Florence County, and was a graduate of North Carolina A&T and held a doctorate in Physics from MIT. He also held several honorary degrees including a Doctor of Science from the University of South Carolina.
He was selected for the Space Shuttle program in 1978 and flew on his first mission in 1984. This mission launched several communications satellites and also was the first to use the Shuttle’s robotic arm, McNair was its operator. McNair also made history on this mission by playing the saxophone in space, the first person ever to do so. McNair’s mission was the first to land at the Kennedy Space Center on February 11, 1984. Prior shuttle flights landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Ironically, McNair’s first shuttle mission was also on the Challenger.
When the Challenger exploded, it was the first astronaut fatalities since 1967 when three astronauts perished in a fire in an Apollo command module on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center. In 2003, the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere.
McNair was a black belt karate instructor and a performing jazz saxophonist. He was survived by his wife Cheryl and two children. He was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously.
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