Ronald Ervin McNair was born on October 21, 1950, in Lake City, SCto Carl and Pearl McNair. He attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where in 1971 he graduated magna cum laude with a BS in physics. In 1976 he earned his PhD degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. McNair's many distinctions include: Presidential Scholar (1967-71), Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-74), and National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974-75). He was also named Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year (1975), was honored as the Distinguished National Scientist by the National Society of Black Professional Engineers (1979), and received the Friend Of Freedom Award (1981).
Ronald E. McNair was nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. In 1978 he was one of 35 applicants selected from a pool of 10,000 for NASA's space shuttle program and assigned as a mission specialist aboard the 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger. On his first space shuttle mission in February 1984, McNair orbited the earth 122 times aboard Challenger. He was the second African-American to fly in space.
In addition to his academic achievements, he received three honorary doctorates and numerous fellowships and commendations. He was also a sixth-degree black belt in karate and an accomplished jazz saxophonist. He was married to Cheryl Moore and had two children, Reginald Ervin and Joy Cheray.
On the morning of January 28, 1986, McNair and his six crew members died in an explosion aboard the space shuttle Challenger.