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A Remembrance of Challenger Astronaut Ronald McNair on Anniversary of Shuttle Disaster [Video]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Twenty-seven years ago today space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, killing all seven crewmembers onboard. Among the victims of the 1986 disaster was astronaut Ronald McNair, who two years earlier had become the second African-American in space.

McNair lived only 35 years, but he amassed quite a résumé in that time. In addition to earning a spot in the astronaut corps, he attained a black belt in karate and received a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to his NASA bio.

A new video from StoryCorps, an oral-history nonprofit that broadcasts stories on NPR, reveals McNair as a uniquely driven individual, even before any of those accomplishments. The astronaut’s brother, Carl McNair, recorded a few anecdotes from their upbringing during Jim Crow in 1950s South Carolina, recalling Ronald as a strong-willed dreamer. The three-minute animated video that accompanies Carl’s story—a warm tribute to his astronaut brother—is embedded below.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. geojellyroll 7:31 pm 01/28/2013

    So much ‘space’ science is not science at all but repetitive historical vignettes. Rebasting events in their own sauce.

    It’s politically incorrect to say so, but how about more articles of actual space and space technology?

    Link to this
  2. 2. alan6302 9:20 pm 01/28/2013

    I clearly remember the news article in late 1985 that described a close call with a leaky booster. I solved the challenger disaster ( roughly speaking ) immediately. Nostradamus did better.

    Link to this

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