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Dr. Ronald E. McNair Playground

Dr. Ronald E. McNair Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This park honors astronaut Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair (1950-1986) who died in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy on January 28, 1986.  Dr. McNair was a physicist, karate instructor, performing jazz saxophonist, husband, and father.

Born in Lake City, South Carolina on October 21, 1950, McNair graduated from North Carolina A&T State University and received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976.  NASA selected him as an astronaut candidate in 1978.  His first and only complete space mission began on February 3, 1984.  This was the first mission to use the space arm, which McNair operated.  His second mission lasted only 73 seconds, before the shuttle exploded in the upper atmosphere, above the Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven on board.

Parks acquired this land in 1986 through the efforts of Mayor Edward I. Koch, Commissioner Henry J. Stern, and Council Member Carolyn Maloney.  Located between Lexington and Third Avenues, East 122nd and East 123rd Streets, the site was chosen because of its proximity to an auto repair shop once owned by McNair’s father, which he visited as a youth. 

The design for the park, based on the theme of outer space, was recognized with a Design Award issued by the NYC Public Design Commission in 2005. Parks designer Nancy Prince laid out nine planets in the pavement and the curbs of the park.  Jupiter is represented by a 77’8” ring of pavement, incised with the planet’s name around a lawn area.  Pluto is represented here (despite its 2006 change in status by the International Astronomical Union) with a 1’3” granite disk paver.

Perhaps the most exceptional part of the design is the Analemmatic sundial in the pavement.  By standing in the designated spot (in accord with the present month), your body will cast a shadow on numbers in the ground that indicate the time of day.  There is also an Earth Sundial, which is a stationary globe with New York located at the top.  It reveals in miniature the patterns of sunshine upon the earth.

The play equipment is designed to resemble a space station, with a shuttle approaching it.  Black and white spheres atop a climbing structure represent the phases of the moon.  A spinning play feature serves young and old children and provides a lesson in centrifugal force.  Even the spray shower’s custom design consists of a pre-cast concrete dome with moon-like craters.

Council Member Philip Reed allocated $1.8 million and Mayor Bloomberg budgeted $154,000 to create Dr. Ronald E. McNair Playground.  In addition to the space-styled play equipment, the landscape includes trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcover.  The plants selected are typical of McNair’s native South Carolina and yet well adapted to our northern urban setting.  A synthetic turf lawn provides an alternative place for play, and benches located throughout the playground provide places for rest.

Park Information

Directions to Dr. Ronald E. McNair Playground

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