Challenger daughter's journey to know her hero dad
Joy McNair enjoys time with her father, NASA mission specialist Ronald McNair, in an undated family photo.
June 16th, 2012
09:00 PM ET

Challenger daughter's journey to know her hero dad

Joy McNair has a wonderful memory of herself as a toddler running toward her astronaut father as he returns home. But it's not her memory. She borrowed it from someone else.

"My mother has told me often that I was quite the daddy's girl," McNair said on the phone Monday. "I would run to his arms when he arrived from work every day."

But beyond that, her memories are murky.

Joy was just 18 months old in 1986 when the unthinkable happened and the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. Her father, astronaut Ronald McNair, and his six colleagues lost their lives, prompting President Reagan to call them true American heroes.

Now a 27-year-old Washington-based attorney, Joy experiences Father's Day very much like any other day.

"I've never had Father's Day to celebrate. So in a weird way it's not something that I feel a loss for."

What Joy McNair knows about her astronaut father comes from family stories and the media.

For countless people who lost their dads before they had a chance to know them, Father's Day can force a confrontation with lingering questions and memory gaps. When the loss is part of a public event, when the world remembers your father in some ways better than you do yourself, the search to truly know your father can become a lifelong quest.

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Filed under: Dear Old Dad • In Space • News

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