NEW YORK (AP) – Two decades after the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, city officials opened a Harlem playground dedicated to killed astronaut Ronald E. McNair, the second black American to make a space flight.

The ribbon cutting took place Friday, the eve of McNair’s 56th birthday, some 20 years after ground was broken on the site. The $2 million playground stands on what was once a vacant lot in the neighborhood where McNair grew up. His father, Carl McNair, owned an auto body shop next door for years.

The one-acre McNair Playground – whose opening was delayed apparently due to lack of funding – revolves around a space theme.

Jupiter is represented by a 77-foot granite ring circling the park’s green turf. A climbing set is based on the spaceship in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Moonlike craters decorate a spray shower and the phases of the moon are reflected in two spinning machines.

The playground also provides swings, monkey bars, a jungle gym and a seesaw, as well as benches, drinking fountains, trees and shrubs.

McNair was a physicist and one of seven astronauts who died aboard the Challenger when it exploded after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. A native of South Carolina, he was selected from among 10,000 applicants to become an astronaut in 1978. He was married and had two children.

In 1984, he became the second black American to travel in space, after Guion Bluford, who made his space flight in 1983.

The playground had its official groundbreaking on Oct. 23, 1986.

“We’ve only been waiting 20 years for this,” Commissioner Adrian Benepe of the Parks Department said at the ceremony. He was joined by U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-Harlem, astronaut William Readdy and City Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito, D-Manhattan.


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