On January 28, 1986, NASA Challenger mission STS-51-L ended in tragedy when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. The image of the explosion shortly after liftoff is burned into the memory of many of us, so revisiting the "major malfunction" may not be necessary, but is here for those who'd like to witness it again.

On board was physicist Ronald E. McNair, who was the second African American to enter space. But first, he was a curious kid with big dreams in Lake City, South Carolina.

Carl McNair tells a charming story of his brother Ronald, an African American kid in the 1950s who set his sights on the stars.

The lives of astronauts are inspiring as they are accomplished in the sciences and engineering and also have wide ranging talents and interests. For instance, I learned this about McNair's musical talent:

McNair was an accomplished saxophonist. Before his fateful last space shuttle mission he had worked with composer Jean Michel Jarre on a piece of music for Jarre's then-upcoming album Rendez-Vous. It was intended that he would record his saxophone solo on board the Challenger, which would have made McNair's solo the first original piece of music to have been recorded in space

(Recall recently that Commander Hadfield wrote what is being called the first original song recorded on the International Space Station. Read more here.)

To hear the beautiful song McNair was to have played along with through a live feed from the shuttle at NASA's 25th Anniversary Celebration in Houston and see footage of McNair in training for space, check out this video:

McNair's talent was taken from us too soon, as were those of the other Challenger crew members.

Francis R. Scobee – Mission Commander

Michael J. Smith – Pilot

Ellison S. Onizuka – Mission Specialist 1

Judith A. Resnik – Mission Specialist 2

Ronald E. McNair – Mission Specialist 3

Christa McAuliffe – Payload Specialist 1

Gregory B. Jarvis – Payload Specialist 2