Of Spaces Familiar and Not-So-Familiar

by Shani O. Hilton

Ronald_mcnair.jpg

"Black astronaut is the unicorn of the science world."


So said my friend Amina over Gchat after she sent me a link to the Wikipedia page of Ronald McNair. McNair, the second black person to go into space, died 25 years ago today in the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. Of the hundreds of American astronauts, just 14 have been black (four have been black women). And by some strange twist of fate, two of those 14 perished in the two major U.S. space shuttle incidents: Michael Anderson died in 2003 during the Columbia explosion.

Since I'm young and what the polltakers call a "digital native" I naively expected to find more about McNair in his own words on the internet. The best I could do was an NPR piece where his brother described him as a youth.

I don't really write this to make a larger point, but one thing does strike me: My romance with the West, and with road trips, is probably at least tangentially related to my love of all things science fiction and space. In science fiction, as on road trips, everything is new, but nothing is so unfamiliar that the Federation (or insert your fictional government of choice, here) can't prepare you for it. Or, I suppose, if you're an astronaut, NASA.

And speaking of new and old... while I've been here at Ta-Nehisi's before, coming back has been pure pleasure. That's the upside of revisiting a familiar route: You know what to expect, and also (hopefully) how to do it better. At any rate, I've enjoyed parlaying with you lovely people this week. I'll be around.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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