22 years ago today

mcnair.jpg

Today was like any other day for most people, but exactly 22 years ago, the nation was in grief after the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard. Among them was Ronald McNair, an African-American physicist who spent part of his childhood in East Harlem and was only the second African-American to fly in space.

There are at least two places in the city you can go to pay tribute to McNair and the rest of the Challenger crew. Back in 2006, the city completed a playground in his honor, on Lexington Avenue between East 122nd and 123rd streets, built on a lot that was once a dumping ground not far from the auto shop his father ran for many years.

According to an AP story from the time:

The one-acre McNair Playground - whose opening was delayed apparently because of a lack of funding - revolves around a space theme.

Jupiter is represented by a 77-foot granite ring circling the park's green turf, and a climbing set is based on the spaceship in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Moonlike craters decorate a spray shower, and the phases of the moon are reflected in two spinning machines

The park was a long time coming, considering that Mayor Ed Koch attended its original groundbreaking 20 years earlier.

Back in 1994, McNair was honored with a monument and park in Brooklyn. Newsday reported then:

Several of McNair's colleagues at NASA, Borough President Howard Golden and parks officials attended the unveiling at the park, a 1.36-acre triangle bounded by Eastern Parkway and Washington and Classon Avenues. The memorial is a 9-foot tall, pyramid-shaped base of polished red granite with three bronze plaques inscribed with McNair's philosophies.

McNair was married with children. He would have been 57 years old.

-- Rolando Pujol

Photo from the Brooklyn park via the Bridge and Tunnel Club, which has more here.

Videos of news coverage from the day after the jump.The first 10 minutes of the CBS Evening News from Jan. 28, 1986:

Coverage from ABC:

Tags: brooklyn , manhattan , history , parks

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