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Who Was Ronald E. McNair?
Ronald Erwin McNair

Ronald Erwin McNair was born on October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina to Carl C. McNair, Jr. and Pearl M. McNair. He showed determination and promise at an early age as valedictorian to his public high school. He attended North Carolina A&T State University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Science in Physics in 1971.

Ronald E. McNair went on to pursue a doctoral degree specializing in quantum electronics and laser technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a student at MIT he made significant contributions to the study of chemical HF/DF and high pressure CO lasers. In 1976, at the age of 26 McNair was awarded his Ph.D. for his dissertation entitled Energy Absorption and Vibrational Heating in Molecules Following Intense Laser Excitation.

After obtaining his Ph.D., Ronald McNair worked as a physicist at the Optical Physics Department at Hugh Research Laboratory in California where upon his work on electro- optic laser modulation for satellite to satellite space communication, he soon became a recognized figure within his field.

In January 1978, he was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program. In February of 1984, McNair became the second Black individual in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger Mission 41-B. The mission marked the first operation of the Canadian made maneuverable arm, which Dr. McNair operated.

Dr. McNair received three honorary doctoral degrees and many fellowships and commendations for his academic achievements. Among Dr. McNair's distinctions are: Presidential Scholars, 1967-71; Ford Foundation Fellows, 1971-74; National Fellowship Fund Fellows, 1974-75; Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year, 1975; Distinguished National Scientist, National Society of Black Professional Engineers, 1979; and the Friend of Freedom Award, 1981.

Dr. McNair was aboard the ill-fated 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger Mission STS- 51-L. Dr. Ronald E. McNair was survived by his wife and two children. He was not only an astronaut or physicist but in his lifetime Dr. McNair was a talented jazz saxophonist, fifth degree black belt martial artist.

After his death aboard the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger Mission congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program in honor of this outstanding individual. The goal of the program is to encourage first generation college students and students from groups underrepresented in graduate school expand their educational opportunities and pursue graduate studies.

In 1999, Hunter College, The City University of New York joined ranks with prestigious universities throughout the nation. The Hunter College Ronald E. McNair Program is currently among 190 McNair Programs nationwide. This program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair's life.