Less Traveled

Page Ivey



Honoring one of South Carolina’s finest

Posted 1/28/2013 9:58:00 AM

Twenty-seven years ago, I was walking to a journalism class at the University of South Carolina when I heard people talking about the space shuttle. I thought they were crazy. They said the space shuttle blew up. I thought they were poorly informed. The space shuttle doesn’t blow up, I thought.

But there in class, we sat and watched news reports and replay after replay of the “major malfunction” that was the space shuttle Challenger launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Among the astronauts lost that day was South Carolina native Ronald E. McNair.

McNair grew up in segregated Lake City in the 1950s and ’60s. He would later tell the story of how police were called when he tried to check books out of the public library when he was 9 years old. After some cajoling from both police and McNair’s mother, the youngster was allowed to check out the books and continue his lifelong quest for learning. He went on to earn a doctorate from MIT and was the second black American in space.

His first Challenger mission in 1984 was a success. Two years later, he was to return to space on the same shuttle.

But on that day in 1986 as millions watched, in part because high school teacher Christa McAuliffe was the first to participate in NASA’s teacher in space program, the Challenger exploded just seconds into its flight. All seven aboard were killed.

Today, Lake City honors McNair’s achievements with the Ronald E. McNair Memorial on East Main Street.

The monument honors McNair’s career in laser physics and as an astronaut, his South Carolina roots, his family and his love of karate (he was a black belt) and jazz (he played the saxophone).

Visitors can come by from dawn to dusk. Admission to the park is free and there is ample parking as the monument is located next to the public library. Call (843) 374-8611 for more information.