LAKE CITY, SC (WMBF) – On Thursday, Lake City hosted a candlelight vigil to remember Dr. Ronald E. McNair, a Lake City-born astronaut and physicist who died 30 years ago in Challenger Space Shuttle explosion.
This week was recently decreed Dr. Ronald McNair week by the Lake City Council, and in 2011, the city opened the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center, a museum that pays tribute to the astronaut, renowned physicist and accomplished saxophonist.
McNair was a pioneer in the field of lasers, and at an early age showed a fascination with science and math, according to Lake City's web page for the McNair Center. He overcame the discrimination of the 1960s south to pursue these interests and graduate as valedictorian from Carver High School in 1967, and graduate magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in engineering physics from the North Carolina A&T State University in 1971. In 1976, he received a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, and received three honorary doctorates.
McNair was selected as one of 35 applicants from a pool of 10,000 for the NASA astronaut program, and flew aboard the Challenger in February 1984 as a mission specialist, according to his NASA biography, becoming the second African-American and the first member of the Baha'i Faith to fly in space.
McNair, along with six other crew members, perished on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean, 73 seconds after liftoff.
The vigil will took place in Lake City from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and featured performances from local students, remarks from Mayor Lovish Anderson, and special guest speaker Carl McNair, Ronald McNair's brother.
As the second African American ever in space, McNair is used as a symbol of success in his hometown, teaching students that hard work pays off.
"Educational Preparation. That's the key if you want to increase your standard of living. If you don't want to be poor, LEARN! You learn more, you earn more. Right? You learn more, you earn more." said Carl McNair to students who attended the vigil.
Several former students who grew up with McNair came to remember him at the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center, a Museum that was once a library that Ronald McNair entered at the age of nine looking for books so he could learn.
"And when he came of course this was before integration. He was denied and folk called his parents and called the police and said we can't let you have the book, but eventually long story short, the police said I don't see anything going wrong here and I think a few folks may have even spoken up." said Clyde Bess, a former classmate of McNair.
Another former classmate, Gloria Tisdale, says she recalls the Challenger disaster like it was yesterday.
"When Martin Luther King was killed, and John F Kennedy, and you ask a person where they were at that time, they could tell you exactly what they were doing. Same thing with Ronald."
The junior high school in town is named after McNair. And every year the school holds a science fair as a way to remind and teach kids that anything is possible if you work hard and continue to learn.
"He followed his dreams. You can always follow your dreams. Don't let anyone ever tell you what you can do." said student Jomondra Burgess.
The 30th anniversary of the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger recalls an event that shook the nation to its core.
For the first time, Americans who had developed a sense that NASA was infallible realized that space travel is a dangerous prospect. The world grieved for the seven lost crew members, including McNair and high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who had been selected from 10,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space.