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McNair Scholars Program

About Ronald E. McNair

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Ronald E. McNair Picture


Dr. Ronald E. McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina. The NASA astronaut died January 28, 1986. He is survived by his wife Cheryl, and two children. He was a 5th degree black belt Karate instructor and a jazz saxophonist. He also enjoyed running, boxing, football, playing cards and cooking.

McNair graduated from Carver High School, Lake City, South Carolina, in 1967. He received a bachelor of science degree in Physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971 and a doctor of philosophy in Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1976. McNair was awarded several honoary degrees. He was presented an honorary doctorate of Laws from North Carolina A&T State University in 1978, an honorary doctorate of Science from Morris College in 1980, and an honorary doctorate of science from the University of South Carolina in 1984.

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

In 1975, McNair studied laser physics with many authorities in the field at Ecole Dete Theorique de Physique, Les Houches, France. He published several papers in the areas of lasers and molecular spectroscopy and gave many presentations in the United States and abroad.

Following graduation from MIT in 1976, McNair became a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California. His assignments included the development of lasers for isotope separation and photochemistry utilizing non-linear interactions in low-temperature liquids and optical pumping techniques. He 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, and the scientific foundations of the martial arts.

January 1978, McNair was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. He completed a year-long training and evaluation period in August 1979, qualifying him for assignment as a mission specialist astronaut on Space Shuttle flight crews.

He first flew as a mission specialist on STS 41-B which launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 3, 1984. The crew included spacecraft Commander Mr. Vance Brand,  Pilot Commander Robert L. Gibson, and fellow mission specialists, Captain Bruce McCandless II, and Lt. Col. Robert L. Stewart. The flight accomplished the proper shuttle deployment of two Hughes 376 communications satellites, as well as the flight testing of rendezvous sensors and computer programs. This mission marked the first flight of the Manned Maneuvering Unit and the first use of the Canadian arm (operated by McNair) to position EVA crewman around Challengers payload bay.

Included were the German SPAS-01 Satellite, acoustic levitation and chemical separation experiments, the Cinema 360 motion picture filming, five Getaway Specials, and numerous mid-deck experiments -- all of which Dr. McNair assumed primary responsibility. Challenger culminated in the first landing on the runway at Kennedy Space Center on February 11, 1984. With the completion of this flight, McNair logged a total of 191 hours in space.

Dr. McNair boarded his last flight into space January 28, 1986. He served as a specialist on STS 51-L aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. He and other spacecraft members died shortly after the Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center. Following his death, Ronald E. McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.



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