Program History

Ronald McNair in his astronaut uniform.
Ronald E. McNair

Legacy of Ronald E. McNair

Ronald Erwin McNair, born on October 21, 1950, in South Carolina, was a trailblazer in science and perseverance. Supported by his family and an encouraging teacher who recognized his scientific potential, he graduated as the valedictorian from Carver High School and earned a PhD in laser physics from MIT in 1976.

His expertise in laser physics at Hughes Research Laboratory, accomplishments as a sixth-degree black belt in karate, and talents as a saxophonist showcased his diverse skillset. NASA selected him for the space program in 1978, and he became the second African American to venture into space in 1984.

Tragically, in 1986, he died on his second space mission in the U.S. Challenger space shuttle disaster. His life, cut short by the Challenger explosion, led to the posthumous award of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

In honor of his enduring legacy, Congress established the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This initiative aims to empower low-income, first-generation college students, and those from underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational horizons. The program encourages aspiring scholars to pursue PhD programs and academic careers, mirroring the high standards and achievements inspired by Dr. McNair's life.