For me, this story has a great ending.

In 1959, when he was nine years old, Ronald McNair wanted to be an astronaut.

He was too young to know it wasn’t possible for a little black boy to be an astronaut.

He went to his local library, in Lake City, and began reading a book about rockets.

He asked if he could take it home, but this was South Carolina in the 1950s.

The librarian said it wasn’t possible for blacks to check out books, only whites.

To nine-year-old Ronald McNair this didn’t make any sense, he asked why.

The librarian said he’d have to leave or she’d call a policeman.

Ronald said okay, he’d wait, and he sat down.

So the librarian did call a policeman, and Ronald’s mum.

Ronald was so fascinated by space exploration that he studied everything he could find.

At school, he studied maths and science and graduated top of his class.

He even won a state scholarship to the North Carolina University of Technology.

In 1971, he got a Bachelor of Science degree (with honours) and even won a Ford scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At MIT, in 1976, he got a PHD in Physics, and began working on chemical and high-pressure laser research, he became an expert on isotope separation and optic modulation.

Then, in 1978, he was one of ten thousand who applied for the astronaut programme, and he was one of just thirty-five that got accepted.

In 1978, he was also awarded an honorary doctorate from North Carolina State University.

In 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Morris College, South Carolina.

And in 1984 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Southern Carolina.

In 1984 he flew three space missions, on the third mission he stayed in space for eight days and orbited the earth 122 times.

In 1986, he was one of the select crew chosen for the Challenger shuttle mission.

The Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off killing all seven crew on board.

But that wasn’t the last anyone would hear of Ronald McNair.

A crater on the moon was named after him.

MIT named its Astrophysics and Space Research Centre after him.

The University of Southern Carolina has a building named the McNair Centre for Aerospace.

Salt Lake City in Utah has Ronald McNair Boulevard.

El Lagos, in Texas, has Ronald McNair Park.

There are twenty four schools named after him.

There are a hundred and fifty university scholarships named after him.

There are a hundred and eighty university campuses offering internships and research funding grants named after him.

But what makes this a great story for me is the ending.

Because for me, the best tribute of all is the one in the town where Ronald McNair grew up.

The town where the local library said a little boy couldn’t borrow a library book.

He couldn’t borrow it because he was black and only whites could borrow library books.

That library used to be called Lake City library, but it isn’t called that anymore.

They renamed it after the local citizen that they’re most proud of, the citizen that put that town on the map.

The most famous person ever to come out of Lake City, South Carolina.


That library is now named after Ronald McNair.