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:

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

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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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