On January 28th, 1986, the Challenger explosion shocked the world even as it took the lives of seven crew members. Most memorable to many is Christa McAuliffe, the first school teacher in space. Then, as now, that loss holds the bulk of media attention.
On this, the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, people speak of new technology, the dangers of space exploration, the folly and wonder of space exploration and more than anything else perhaps, where were you during the Challenger explosion?
For me, the memories of the Challenger explosion itself are vague, the event perhaps too momentous to grasp at such a selfish preteen age. I can’t recall being in class that day and so missed the announcements and in-class TV coverage. For some reason, I don’t recall watching the flight at home either. The Challenger explosion stays with me because of my brother.
Everyone spoke of the Challenger explosion. They spoke of lost astronauts, lost funding, too many mistakes made and most of all, a lost school teacher. My brother spoke of another never mentioned on the news, at least as far as I could tell. He was a man my brother knew.
Ronald McNair was born in South Carolina in 1950. He earned degrees from A&T of North Carolina and MIT. He also held honorary doctorates from A&T, Morris College and the University of South Carolina. He worked and published in the area of laser technology.
The few times my brother was fortunate enough to have met Ronald McNair are not the reason he feels he knew him. He benefitted, along with many others, from Ronald McNair’s good works in the Boston area. Ronald McNair touched the lives of all who joined St. Paul A.M.E. Karate-Do in Cambridge, Massachusetts . McNair had already been involved in helping disadvantaged youth in the Boston area before starting the karate club in an effort to get kids off the street.
My brother tells of those times he was graced by McNair’s presence, speaking of an energy and spirit felt by all around him. He speaks of the legacy left by Ronald McNair, of students experiencing the touch of a man able to inspire others to things greater than they thought possible – of Master Anthony Willis, who went on to a degree from MIT himself and continues to teach karate in New Hampshire. He speaks of Willis’ student, who teaches karate in the Boston area. Most of all, he speaks of Ronald McNair as a spiritual man and teacher.
I experienced Ronald McNair’s touch through my brother’s tears and anger after the Challenger explosion. Christa McAuliffe received news coverage and was mourned by many school children; many in the Boston area wondered that McNair received far less mention. To the people whose lives he touched, Ronald McNair seemed forgotten by the media, a fate undeserved by a man so willing and able to reach others in a positive manner.
That this man was also a professional astronaut is a footnote to an already impressive life. Let us use the anniversary of the Challenger’s tragedy to remember the entire Challenger crew and honor this man, Ronald McNair, who as of this writing was the second of only 14 African Americans to travel into space for this country. He received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously.