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Ronald McNair, PhDDr. Ronald McNair

Born: October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina.

Education: Received a bachelor of science degree in physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971 and a doctorate of philosophy in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1976; presented an honorary doctorate of laws from North Carolina A&T State University in 1980, and an honorary doctorate on science from the University of South Carolina in 1984.

Marital Status: Married the former Cheryl Moore.

Children: Reginald Ervin (February 12, 1982) and Joy Cheray (July 20, 1984).

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

Professional Organizations: 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.

Special Honors: Graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina A&T (1971), named a Presidential Scholar (1967-1971), a Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-1974), a National Fellowship Fund Fellow, 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), an AAU Karate Gold Medal (1976), five Regional Blackbelt Karate Championships, and numerous proclamations and achievement awards.

Experience: Ron McNair, while at MIT, 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, he studied laser physics with many authorities in the field at E'cole D'ete 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, Ron 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.

NASA Experience: McNair was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978. In August 1979, he completed a one-year training and evaluation period, making him eligible for assignment as a mission specialist on future Space Shuttle missions.

Ron first flew as a mission specialist on STS-41B Challenger, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on February 3, 1984. 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 flight of the Manned Maneuvering Unit and the first use of the Canadian Remote Manipulator System (robot arm, and operated by McNair) to position an EVA crewperson around the orbiter's payload bay. Also included on the mission were the German SPAS-01 (Shuttle PAllet Satellite-01), acoustic levitation and chemical separation experiments, the Cinema 360 motion picture filming, five Getaway Specials, and numerous mid-deck experiments - all of which Ron assumed primary responsibility. STS-41B Challenger ended with the first landing at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility on February 11, 1984. Ron logged a total of 191 hours in space.

His final mission was as a mission specialist of Challenger STS-51L. This mission included the first citizen, Teacher In Space Christa McAuliffe. It was to have deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, and a retrievable spacecraft, SPARTAN, to study Comet Halley.

Quote: "True courage come in... believing in oneself."

Article published courtesy of Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: 9/21/16