I remember walking into the office at Greenville High School after a Driver’s Education class and being told the space shuttle Challenger had disintegrated. I felt immediate loss for the crew and their families and a special connection to Christa McAuliffe because she was a teacher. It would be later that I would put the name and face of Ronald McNair together with the same young man I had heard speak at a science convention some years earlier. Ronald was a NASA astronaut and a son of South Carolina.
Years before he had received his PHD from MIT and had become a leader in the field of laser physics and years before he was selected to be a NASA astronaut, he was just Ron McNair THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST. Growing up in Lake City, the nine-year-old McNair refused to leave the segregated public library until he was allowed to check out his book. After his mother and the police were called…Ronald got his book. The library is now named after him…as is the McNair Building at MIT.
Ronald McNair was the second African-American to fly in space and the first of the Baha’i faith. A saxophonist, McNair was to record a solo as a part of Jean Michael Jarre’s album “Renedez-Vous” that was to be fed live from space during a concert. That dream ended when the flight broke up after just seventy-three seconds over the Atlantic Ocean. The last selection from the “Renedez-Vous” is simply named “Ron’s Piece.” Carl McNair, Ronald’s brother, has written a book about Ronald named aptly, IN THE SPIRIT OF A LEGEND.