Ron’s Piece

English Music
Ron McNair floating in weightlessness while playing his saxophone

On this day, 35 years ago, the NASA space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. I still remember when I was told. From the age of 6 I’ve been very interested in space exploration and this was shocking news.

Seven crew members aboard died. Among them was Ron McNair, who was an avid saxophone player. In the months before takeoff he had worked with the composer Jean-Michel Jarre on a piece of music for Jarre’s then-upcoming album Rendez-Vous. It was intended that he would record his saxophone solo onboard the Challenger, which would have made McNair’s solo the first original piece of music to have been recorded in space.

The final track on Rendez-Vous, «Last Rendez-Vous,» has the subtitle «Ron’s Piece,» and the liner notes include a dedication from Jarre: «Ron was so excited about the piece that he rehearsed it continuously until the last moment. May the memory of my friend the astronaut and the artist Ron McNair live on through this piece.»

In April the same year, Jean-Michel Jarre did a concert in downtown Houston. It was a celebration of Houston’s 150th anniversary, the 25th anniversary of NASA and it was also a tribute to the astronauts aboard Challenger. 1,3 million people showed up for the concert.

He performed the song as a tribute to McNair, and the saxophone part was played by Kirk Wahlum. Here is a video from the performance. It’s a really, really beautiful jazzy piece. A very fitting tribute to the brave space explorers, and to quote the most famous sci-fi writer of all time, Arthur C. Clarke: – It’s one of the most moving pieces of music I know.

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