I was on my way to work on Friday, listening to NPR like I always do. Since it was Friday, NPR debuts one of their StoryCorp oral histories. Since it was the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion they highlighted one man’s journey to become an astronaut. And not just any astronaut, but one of the first African American astronauts to go to space.
Ronald McNair was an African American who grew up in the south before the civil rights movement. He seemed to be a curious boy. His brother tells the story of how Ronald went down to the public library to check out some books on astronomy. Mind you this was an all-white library, where African Americans were forbidden to even think about stepping foot in.
His brother then goes on to say that in the 1960s this incredible show came on the air where whites and blacks were able to work and live together without conflict, Star Trek. That they were seen as equals. Ronald’s brother saw this as “science fiction” as he stated in the oral history and Ronald saw this TV show as “science possibility”. This dream and hope of a better future, of exploration, and reaching for the stars inspired Ronald to graduate from college, earn his PhD in Physics from MIT, and join the space program, where he was chosen as one of the crew members for the Challenger flight.
Unfortunately Ronald did not live through the flight. Star Trek once again showed a just and equal future for all races, and inspired Ronald to work toward a better tomorrow, and for him to reach for the stars. The social reality of Star Trek seemed to be so far away, that even Ronald’s brother never thought it would happen. Thankfully Ronald lived to see the day where he could board a shuttle, and travel to the stars.