As a child, McNair was determined about his education and academics. His brother shared how 9-year-old Ronald took it upon himself to walk into a South Carolina public library in 1959 and check out books. His zealous spirit convinced him it wouldn't be a problem despite the segregation laws that existed.
Although a small confrontation ensued, McNair left the library the victor, books in hand.
McNair's thirst for knowledge only deepened as he grew older. He graduated from N.C. A&T in 1971 with a B.S. in physics and went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics five years later.
McNair later began to study laser physics with leading authorities. He began conducting research on electo-optic laser modulation for satellite-to-satellite space communications, the construction of ultra-fast infrared detectors, ultraviolet atmospheric remote sensing and the scientific foundations of martial arts.
In 1978, McNair, one of the first African American astronauts, was selected as a mission specialist astronaut for the NASA space shuttle program. His first flight was completed Feb. 11, 1984. Two years later, he was aboard the Challenger for his second mission when it experienced fatal malfunctions upon takeoff. McNair died along with six other crew members on Jan. 28, 1986.
McNair has been honored with numerous posthumous awards and acclamations around the country. In 1988, Congress established the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, serving college students in preparation for attending graduate school and working toward their doctoral degrees. TRIO Programs at A&T facilitates the program, as well as others, to help low-income, first-generation students fulfill their academic, personal, economic and social goals.