Ronald McNair was a black astronaut and NASA mission specialist who was part of the space shuttle Challenger crew in 1986. McNair was a highly trained doctor of physics who received his Ph.D from MIT. After receiving a number of fellowships, McNair dedicated his studies to CO2 lasers and even the study of science within the martial arts. The Lake City, South Carolina native was a 5th degree black belt and an accomplished saxophonist. A father of two, Ron McNair was a graduate of North Carolina A & T and a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated.
In 1984, McNair took his first historical flight in space. He was the first to operate the Canadian arm to position EVA crewman around Challenger’s payload bay. McNair had received countless awards and fellowships, including being named a Presidential Scholar (1967-1971), a Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-1974), a National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974-1975), a NATO Fellow (1975); winner of Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year Award (1975), Los Angeles Public School Systems Service Commendation (1979), Distinguished Alumni Award (1979), National Society of Black Professional Engineers Distinguished National Scientist Award (1979), Friend of Freedom Award (1981), Who’s Who Among Black Americans (1980), an AAU Karate Gold Medal (1976), five Regional Black Belt Karate Championships, and numerous proclamations and achievement awards.
After studying in France at the Ecole Dete Theorique de Physique, Les Houches, France, McNair published papers on the lasers and molecular spectroscopy.
Through his research, 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.
Then on January 28, 1986, he, along with several other crew members, perished with the space shuttle Challenger during launch.
On Tuesday, August 20, 2013, the school named after the pioneer astronaut was invaded with violence by 20-year-old suspect Michael Brandon Hill.