For day 2 of our Black History Month celebration we recognize: Dr. Ronald McNair!
Dr. Ronald McNair was the first astronaut to play a musical instrument in space and the second African-American to fly in space.
McNair, who was born on October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, was a gifted saxophonist. A graduate of Lake City’s Carver High School, McNair received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from North Carolina A&T State University. In 1976, McNair earned his Doctor of Philosophy in Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In January of 1978, McNair was selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate, where he completed a 1-year training program which qualified him as a mission specialist for Space Shuttle flights.
On February 3, 1984, McNair embarked on his first mission in space where he was famously photographed playing his saxophone on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Upon completing his first mission, McNair planned to record a saxophone solo on his second shuttle flight for French composer Jean Michel Jarre’s album, which would have been a historical first.
McNair and Jarre’s plans to record never came to fruition. On January 28, 1986, McNair, along with the crew members of the STS-51L mission, lost their lives in the 1986 Challenger accident.
In 2004, McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor along with his crew mates and the crew members of the Columbia disaster. In addition to the Medal of Honor, countless schools, programs, research and historical centers have been named in McNair’s honor.