Biography of Ronald McNair
"Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them. You're eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky!"
~Ronald E. McNair
Ronald E. McNair was born on October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. He achieved early success as both a student and an athlete in the segregated public schools he attended. Valedictorian of his high school class, he attended North Carolina A & T State University where in 1971 he received a B.S. degree in physics, magna cum laude. He went on to study physics at MIT, specializing in quantum electronics and laser technology, and completed his Ph.D. in 1977 at the age of 26.
Dr. McNair became a recognized expert in laser physics, and worked for the Hughes Research Laboratories in California. Here, he conducted research on electro-optic laser modulation for satellite-to-satellite space communications. This research led McNair into close contact with the space program; when the opportunity presented itself he applied for astronaut training and was selected in 1978. He was one of the first three African Americans chosen by NASA. As a mission specialist aboard the February 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger, he became the second African American in space.
Ronald McNair received many fellowships and commendations; among his achievements were three honorary doctoral degrees. In addition to his stellar academic success, he was a well-rounded person. A leader in track and football in high school, he also became a black belt in Karate, and while in graduate school he offered Karate classes at St. Paul's AME Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an accomplished jazz saxophonist, and a devoted husband and father to Cheryl and their two children.
After his death in the Challenger explosion in January 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Dr. McNair set high standards for himself, and dared to make his dreams come true. The program that bears his name is dedicated to the success of low income/ first generation college students and students from underrepresented groups who aspire to graduate studies.
"Before you can make a dream come true, you must first have one."