LAKE CITY, S.C. (AP) _ Standing a few hundred feet from the memorial to the fallen Challenger astronaut, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told hundreds Monday that he owes his career of his fellow South Carolinian Ron McNair.
“He was my very good friend and a person I owe everything to because I would not be standing here today if it were not for Ron,'' Bolden, a black Columbia native, told about 400 people attending the dedication of the Ronald McNair Life History Center. “I stood on his shoulders.''
McNair died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded after lifting off 25 years ago.
The center, which offers space for community meetings and events in a room lined with exhibits about McNair's life, is in the same building where a librarian once famously called the police and McNair's mother when the 9-year-old black child tried to check out a couple of books in Jim Crow South Carolina.
The youngster held his ground. When police refused to arrest him for trying to check out a library book, the librarian relented and let him have the books.
“The lesson from Ron McNair's life is to believe in yourself when nobody else will,'' said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said that in 1950s South Carolina, reaching the moon and stars must have seemed easier than what McNair and Bolden accomplished. “If you're a librarian and a kid asks for a book, give it to them, because you don't really know what that man or woman is all about.''
Bolden recalled how when he was a Marine test pilot, McNair asked him if he planned to apply to the astronaut corps.
“I said 'Not on your life' and he looked at me strange. I said 'Ron, I would not be selected. They would never select me.' And he looked at me and said 'That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. How do you know you won't be selected unless you at least try?'''
Bolden said he applied and soon was flying on the shuttle himself.
He said that McNair would be amazed at the progress made in space during the past 25 years: an international space station, a satellite orbiting Mercury and rovers on Mars.
“Ron would be so very, very honored,'' by the dedication, said his widow Cheryl McNair, and he would be pleased that his life was a continuing source of inspiration and hope to others.
“These are indeed things Ron believed in,'' she said.