Lifestyle & Human Interest

Widow of Famed Astronaut Saves Late Husband's Space Suit and Medals from House Fire


Certain moments in life are so shocking and tragic that they permanently imprint themselves into your memory. I recall the instant when I saw a television broadcast showing smoke pouring from the World Trade Center, and the moment I watched my father pass from this world to the next.

Ask individuals of a certain age where they were when they heard the news about President Kennedy, and they can tell you.

The same holds true for people living when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster unfolded. Houston, Texas, resident Cheryl McNair lost her husband to that tragedy, and she has recently escaped another terrible incident.

The destruction of the Challenger came as a complete surprise to everyone, according to Encyclopædia Britannica (and as you very well may recall). Live television broadcasts even beamed the spacecraft’s destruction some 73 seconds into liftoff.

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The image of it breaking apart proved even more traumatic due to the circumstances surrounding the launch. It had been heavily publicized due to the presence of Christa McAuliffe, a Boston-area teacher who’d joined the crew as part of NASA’s Teacher in Space Project.

Investigators would later learn that below-freezing temperatures had weakened a rubber O-ring, which allowed a flame to penetrate an external fuel tank. The subsequent explosion killed all the Challenger’s crew members.

One of those crew members was Ronald McNair, a mission specialist. His widow, Cheryl, watched his legacy become intertwined with educational opportunities, his name appearing on numerous schools and connected with multiple scholarships.

She also helped further that goal by starting the Dr. Ronald E. McNair D.R.E.M.E. Foundation. The nonprofit seeks to encourage a love of learning in students at any age from elementary school to college.

Do you remember the Challenger disaster?

Sadly, Cheryl McNair almost lost more tangible reminders of her husband in March. According to Inside Edition, a fire broke out in her Houston home last month.

We all like to say that stuff is just stuff, here today and gone tomorrow. But we all also understand that you simply can’t replace some physical possessions — particularly when they’re related to a deceased spouse.

Fortunately, the fire spared most of the keepsakes related to Ronald McNair.

“We actually were able to retrieve quite a bit of memorabilia,” Cheryl McNair said. “Lots of pictures, actually. Ron’s flight suit.”

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Even more amazing was the fact the firefighters retrieved his medals from the space mission, finding them in the midst of the rubble.

“I have a piece of his mission still in my hands and that’s a good feeling to have,” McNair said. “I’m so blessed that I am alive. … My family is fine. Even my cat is fine.

“We always have something that can shake up your life. But you don’t let that beat you.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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