The Palmetto State has produced numerous astronauts and scientists. A South Carolinian, Charles Townes of Greenville, invented the laser, and another native, Dr. Ron McNair, was the first person to operate a laser in space in his role as a NASA astronaut. A physicist, McNair was killed in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986. It was his second excursion into space.
McNair had a thirst for knowledge even as a child. His brother, Carl, was interviewed by NPR's StoryCorps project and recalled a story from Ron's childhood in which the 9-year-old defied tradition in the Jim Crow South at the "public" library in his hometown of Lake City. The story illustrates both his desire for education and his courage in the face of the segregated society of his youth.
In addition, Carl McNair tells of the times in the mid-1960s when the TV series Star Trek depicted the races - alien species as well - working together in the future. "I looked at it as science fiction, because that wasn't going to happen, really. But Ronald saw it as science possibility. He came up during a time when there was Neil Armstrong and all of those guys...Ron was the one who didn't accept societal norms as being his norms. That was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own starship Enterprise."
The first manned moon landing was 50 years ago on July 20, 1969. This month join American Experience and PBS for the broadcast of Chasing the Moon, and relive the journey that defined a generation. Chasing the Moon airs on South Carolina ETV in three parts: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, July 8-10 at 9 p.m. In the days leading up to the broadcast, South Carolina Public Radio is presenting stories related to America’s space program.