Ronald E. McNair (Ph.D.) NASA Astronaut
Source: Johnson Space Center JANUARY 1986


Born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina. His mother, Pear M. McNair, resides in Lake City, South Carolina; his father, Carl C. McNair, is a resident of New York City, New York.


Black hair; brown eyes; height; 5 feet 8 inches; weight; 160 pounds.


Graduated from Carver High School, Lake City, South Carolina, in 1967; 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 in 1976; presented and 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.


Married to the former Cheryl Moore of Jamaica, New York. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Moore, reside in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.


Reginald Ervin, February 12, 1982; and Joy Cheray, July 20, 1984.


He was a 5th degree black belt Karate instructor and a performing jazz saxophonist. He also enjoyed running, boxing, football, playing cards, and cooking.


Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Optical Society, the American Physical Society, (APS), the APS Committee on Minorities in Physics, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics Board of Trustees, the MIT Corporation Visiting Committee, Omega Psi Phi, and a visiting lecturer in Physics at Texas Southern University.


Graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina A&T (1971); named 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 System’s 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 Blackbelt Karate Championships, and numerous proclamations and achievements awards.


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 intense CO2 laser radiation with molecular gases provided new understandings and applications for highly excited polyatomic molecules.

In 1975, he studied lasers physics with many authorities in the field at E’ cole D’ ete Theorique de Physique, Les Houches, France. He has published several papers in the areas of lasers and molecular spectroscopy and has given 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.


Dr. McNair was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978. In August 1979, he completed a 1-year training and evaluation period, making him eligible for assignment as a mission specialist astronaut on future Space Shuttle flight crews. He first flew as a mission specialist on STS 41-B which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on February 3, 1984. He was accompanied by spacecraft commander, Mr. Vance Brand, the 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. The mission marked the first use on the Canadian arm (operated by McNair) to position an EVA crewman around Challenger’s payload bay. Included were the German SPAS-01 Satellites, acoustic levitation and chemical separation experiments, the Cinema 360 motion picture filming, five Gateway 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, he logged a total of 191 hours in space. Dr. McNair was mission specialist on STS 51-L which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 11:38:00 EST on January 28 1986. The crew on board the orbiter Challenger included the spacecraft commander, Mr. F. R. Scobee, the pilot, Commander M. J. Smith (USN), fellow mission specialists, Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Onizuka (USAF), and Dr. J. A. Resnik as well as two civilian payload specialists, Mr. G. B. Jarvis and Mrs. S. C. McAuliffe. The STS 51-L crew died on January 28, 1986 after the Challenger exploded 1min. 13 sec. after launch.


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