Dr. Ronald E. McNair was the second African-American to work in space (the first was Dr. Guion “Guy” Bluford), and died with his Space Shuttle crew members when the Challenger exploded shortly after take-off in 1986.
My alma mater, Texas Tech University, is one of 200 US universities that runs a McNair Scholars program for low-income, first-generation college students and graduate students from historically underrepresented populations. The program has been federally funded since 1986 as part of the Congressional response to the Challenger accident.
Three years ago, Dr. McNair’s brother, Carl McNair, shared with NPR how Ron had achieved his goal of becoming an astronaut. He achieved his goal because he dreamed and acted beyond the norms of his time. Carl has also written about Ron in the book In the Spirit of Ronald E. McNair – Astronaut: An American Hero (2012). In the clip below, Carl reflects on how both reading and Gene Roddenbery’s Star Trek: The Original Series inspired his younger brother.
A show came on TV called Star Trek. Now Star Trek showed the future where there were Black folk and White folk working together. And I just looked at it as science fiction, because that wasn’t going to happen really. But Ronald saw it as science possibility…
How was a colored boy from South Carolina wearing glasses, never flew a plane—how was he gonna become an astronaut? But Ron was the one who didn’t accept societal norms as being his norm; that was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise. —Carl McNair