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Ronald McNair – Astronaut, Physicist, Saxophonist – Congressional Space Medal of Honor Recipient

Ronald McNair – Astronaut, Physicist, Saxophonist – Congressional Space Medal of Honor Recipient

Black History Month - Focus on Science

As we move with hope and vigor towards a time in which the monumental achievements and contributions of Black and Indigenous folks are recognized with priority for 12 months of the year rather than sequestered to our calendar's shortest month, hBARSCI wishes to pay tribute to a handful of extremely important scientists. 

Though often underrepresented in history, these are people who have aided immeasurably in the evolution of humankind's understanding of our world and universe, and in our ability to survive on a small rock tearing through space at 1,000 miles per hour.

We will feature a Scientist weekly throughout the month, and it is our hope that these small bits of commentary will encourage further curiosity and learning. If there is a particular scientist who you would like to see featured here at any time of year, don't hesitate to reach out and let us know.

Ronald McNair

When Ronald McNair was 9 years old, he had the police called on him for refusing to leave the segregated public library in his town without being allowed to check out books. 60 years later, the library is named after him. 

With such an iconic start to a life of refusing to take no for an answer and making waves in the spaces around him or above him, it should come as no surprise that he would be valedictorian of his high school (also now named after him) several years later or earning a PhD in physics from MIT several years after that. McNair received 4 honorary doctorates and a 6th degree black belt in taekwondo during this time, because why not? 

Traversing the southern reality of North America in a time where imbecilic behavior towards minorities was even more of a shameful, culturally embraced norm than what we know today, he would earn a lifetime’s worth of accolades in what for most of us is merely a fraction of our time here. His name is emblazoned on schools, libraries, academic endowments, and awards. 

There are dozens of colleges with exceptionally composed biographies for McNair, so rather than delve further into that, perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect on his sacrifices and his bravery. 

For 191 hours McNair lived outside of the planet that we call home. He performed tasks for the sake of humanity’s obsessive quest for discovery of not only our own physical space, but the spaces that we spend our lives staring up at in endless wonderment.  

McNair was also an accomplished saxophonist who while aboard the Challenger, was to record his solo for a piece worked on with Jean-Michel Jarre, (record holder for the largest outdoor audience ever at 3.5 million people). He spent his life breaking barriers both on and off our planet. 

McNair famously died along with the other passengers aboard the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. He was not defined by the tragedy of his passing, but rather by his excellence in every pursuit of his life, and if we were to exemplify that courage enthusiastic refusal to fail or be told what can or cannot be done even just one day a week, what a world we might call home.

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