New York City Playground Named After Challenger Astronaut

Two decades after the space shuttle Challenger exploded, city officials opened a playground dedicated to an astronaut killed in the accident.

The ribbon cutting took place Friday, on the eve of Ronald E. McNair's birthday.

The $2 million playground in Harlem is near where McNair grew up. His father owned an auto body shop next door to the site.

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The one-acre McNair Playground has a space theme.

Jupiter is represented by a granite ring circling the park's green turf. A climbing set is based on the spaceship in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Craters decorate a spray shower, and the phases of the moon are reflected in two spinning machines.

McNair, a physicist, was one of seven astronauts who died aboard the Challenger when it exploded shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

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

Ground was broken for the project in 1986, but during repeated construction delays, the property served as an illegal dumping ground and a meeting place for drug users.

"We've only been waiting 20 years for this," said Commissioner Adrian Benepe of the city Parks Department.