The Inspiring Story of Ronald E. McNair, the Astronaut Who Endured Racism & Became One of the First African Americans in Space

On Jan­u­ary 28, 1986, NASA Chal­lenger mis­sion STS-51‑L explod­ed in the sky, into a twist­ing plume of smoke, a mere 73 sec­onds after take­off. It left a nation stunned, and sev­en astro­nauts dead. Among them was the pilot, physi­cist and MIT grad Ronald McNair, who, in 1984, had become only the sec­ond African-Amer­i­can to trav­el into out­er space.

As this ani­ma­tion nar­rat­ed by his own broth­er explains, McNair’s path to becom­ing an astro­naut was­n’t easy. Born and raised in the Jim Crow South (in Lake City, South Car­oli­na, to be pre­cise) McNair encoun­tered racism in his every­day life. One touch­ing sto­ry helps crys­tal­lize what his expe­ri­ence was like. As a nine-year-old, McNair tried to check out books from the “pub­lic” library — only to dis­cov­er that “pub­lic” meant books were for whites, not blacks. The video tells the rest of the sto­ry. And I’ll just flag one impor­tant detail men­tioned at the very end: On Jan­u­ary 28, 2011, exact­ly 25 years after his death, the library was renamed The Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life His­to­ry Cen­ter. You’ll also find a Ronald E. McNair Build­ing on MIT’s cam­pus too. And deserved­ly so.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nichelle Nichols Explains How Mar­tin Luther King Con­vinced Her to Stay on Star Trek

Albert Ein­stein Called Racism “A Dis­ease of White Peo­ple” in His Lit­tle-Known Fight for Civ­il Rights

How Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Used Hegel, Kant & Niet­zsche to Over­turn Seg­re­ga­tion in Amer­i­ca

Pro­fes­sor Ronald Mal­lett Wants to Build a Time Machine in this Cen­tu­ry … and He’s Not Kid­ding

Free Online Astron­o­my Cours­es

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  • peter mathew says:

    Unimag­in­able but must believe as he is real. If his moth­er is alive tell her that I believe she was the real gift from God to Ronald E McNair because we Indi­ans believe moth­er is clos­er to us. So our order of importance/priority is Mata, Pita, Guru and Daivam. Trans­lat­ed it reads like this Moth­er, Father, Teacher and God. Though mon­ey is above all these in these days I am sure such peo­ple will be gift­ed by God as an inspi­ra­tion to us, liv­ing like our own Kalpana Chawla. Wish all the best to his fam­i­ly, and the Amer­i­can minds as shown through the two police men and the librar­i­an and his atti­tude “the thank you” to the librar­i­an is real­ly touch­ing.

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