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Reagan Delayed the 1986 State of the Union to Mourn the Challenger Disaster

Reagan Delayed the 1986 State of the Union to Mourn the Challenger Disaster


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“Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union,” began President Ronald Reagan in a televised speech from the Oval Office. “But the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.”

It was January 28, 1986, the day the space shuttle orbiter Challenger exploded in the sky, killing all seven astronauts on board. Out of respect, Reagan and his aides decided to postpone the state of the Union speech he was supposed to give that evening until the next week—marking the first time a president had ever delayed the yearly address.

Reagan was in the Oval Office at 11:44 A.M. that day when Pat Buchanan, then the president’s director of communications, walked in and said: “Sir, the shuttle blew up.” Reagan asked if the Challenger was the one carrying a teacher; though he must have already known the answer, since he was planning to mention her in his state of the Union speech that evening. That particular addition to the crew had been his idea. During his 1984 reelection campaign, Reagan had launched the Teacher in Space Project that selected Christa McAuliffe from among some 10,000 applicants.

“Reagan had a pretty strong populist streak,” says Russell Riley, co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. Riley specuates the president may have wanted to put a teacher in space to draw positive attention to the space program and make people feel like they, as regular citizens, were connected to it.

McAuliffe was one of two women aboard the Challenger, and she was poised to become the first “ordinary citizen” in space, The New York Times reported. When Reagan heard that her spacecraft had exploded, “His eyes went wide, his mouth opened in total surprise,” recounted Alfred Kingon, Reagan’s Cabinet secretary, to the Times. The president and his aides huddled around a television and watched footage of the explosion in silence for several minutes. Reagan later recalled it as “a very traumatic experience.”

“I certainly remember that it was a shocking incident, a stunning incident,” Riley says. “There had grown a sense of complacency about the space program among people who were on the outside; that we had had such great successes and everything had gone really well for an extended period of time.”

The Challenger disaster, he says, “punctured this image of routine.”

The president and his aides decided that he shouldn’t deliver his state of the Union speech that night. Instead, at 5:00 P.M., Reagan gave a televised address from his Oval Office about the disaster. In his speech, he addressed the sense of complacency Riley mentions.

“We've grown used to wonders in this century,” Reagan said. “It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.”

Reagan concluded by quoting a poem by John Gillespie Magee, an American airman who died in World War II when he was only 19.

“We will never forget them,” he said, “nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

READ MORE: How Groupthink Led to 7 Lives Lost in the Challenger Explosion


Who delivered the space shuttle Challenger speech?

Reagan Delayed the 1986 State of the Union to Mourn the Challenger Disaster. The shocking disaster delayed the speech for one week. &ldquoLadies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union,&rdquo began President Ronald Reagan in a televised speech from the Oval Office.

Also Know, what was the purpose of Ronald Reagan's Challenger speech? The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tradgedy Address He honors those who died, explains what happened to the children who watched it in school, and offers hope that the United States will continue exploring. killing the seven passangers aboard.

Considering this, who delivered the space shuttle Challenger tragedy address?

American Rhetoric: Ronald Reagan - Address to the Nation on The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.

How are the Challenger astronauts similar to Sir Francis Drake?

According to Reagan the Challenger Astronauts were similar to Sir Francis Drake because he died doing something he loved. "They wished to serve, and they did" Just like Sir Francis Drake, the Challenger Astronauts lived as astronauts and also died as one, Sir Francis Drake lived as an explorer and died as one.


Thank you!

Countless cameras were trained at what was meant to be a joyous if routine event, but only CNN&mdashthen young enough to be identified by TIME as Cable News Network&mdashwas carrying live coverage of the liftoff and subsequent explosion. The broadcast networks devoted much of the rest of the day to the disaster, but they relied on replays and commentary to fill time in an absence of both information and original footage. As a result, television served as a way to collectively process something that had, until that morning, seemed unimaginable.

Fittingly, the culmination of that day of coming to grips also took place on television. Though few people actually watched the shuttle launch live, President Ronald Reagan’s afternoon address was broadcast in real time. With a huge audience tuned-in, Reagan’s speech “offered both a sense of climax and of closure,” as Ben Lerner put it in his 2014 novel 10:04.

Read TIME’s 1986 Challenger cover story, here in the TIME Vault:A Nation Mourns

Reagan had been meant to deliver his State of the Union address, and had been getting ready to talk to network news correspondents about the speech when he was told what had happened. Though the president initially planned to merely add a mention of the Challenger to his remarks, he was encouraged by advisers to postpone the State of the Union and instead deliver a tribute speech. That address, particularly its closing paraphrase of the poet John Gillespie Magee, would become one of the most significant of his career. “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning,” he said, “as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”


Who wrote Reagan's Challenger speech?

The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tradgedy Address He honors those who died, explains what happened to the children who watched it in school, and offers hope that the United States will continue exploring. killing the seven passangers aboard.

where did Reagan give his challenger speech? Reagan Delayed the 1986 State of the Union to Mourn the Challenger Disaster. The shocking disaster delayed the speech for one week. &ldquoLadies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union,&rdquo began President Ronald Reagan in a televised speech from the Oval Office.

Similarly one may ask, when did Reagan give his challenger speech?

How are the Challenger astronauts similar to Sir Francis Drake?

According to Reagan the Challenger Astronauts were similar to Sir Francis Drake because he died doing something he loved. "They wished to serve, and they did" Just like Sir Francis Drake, the Challenger Astronauts lived as astronauts and also died as one, Sir Francis Drake lived as an explorer and died as one.


Reagan's memorable speech on Challenger disaster

Text of President Ronald Reagan's address to the nation after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, which killed seven astronauts. It was delivered from the Oval Office of the White House at 5 p.m. EST on Jan. 28, 1986.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss. Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "Give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy." They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us. We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."

There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, "He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it." Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."


What Made the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Speech So Effective?

Former President Ronald Reagan was a masterful communicator who was faced with a daunting communication situation immediately after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Of all his presidential moments, on this particular day, I was desperate to hear from my President. I needed him, his comfort, and his insight. His words came across the airwaves like salve for my soul.

The shuttle’s launch had already been delayed twice, and the White House was insisting that it launch before the State of the Union address, so it took off on January 28, 1986. This particular launch was widely publicized because for the first time a civilian—a teacher named Christa McAuliffe—was traveling into space. The plan was to have McAuliffe communicate to students from space. According to the New York Times, nearly half of America’s school children aged nine to thirteen watched the event live in their classrooms. After a short seventy-three seconds into flight, the world was stunned when the shuttle burst into flames, killing all seven crew members on board.

President Ronald Reagan cancelled his scheduled State of the Union address that evening and instead addressed the nation’s grief. In his book Great Speeches for Better Speaking, author Michael E. Eidenmuller describes the situation: “In addressing the American people on an event of national scope, Reagan would play the role of national eulogist. In that role, he would need to imbue the event with life-affirming meaning, praise the deceased, and manage a gamut of emotions accompanying this unforeseen and yet unaccounted-for disaster.

As national eulogist, Reagan would have to offer redemptive hope to his audiences, and particularly to those most directly affected by the disaster. But Reagan would have to be more than just a eulogist. He would also have to be a U.S. President and carry it all with due presidential dignity befitting the office as well as the subject matter.”

The speech succeeded in meeting the emotional requirements of five audiences by carefully addressing each segment.

*The quotations within the analyses below are from Eidenmuller’s book.

Speech

Analysis*

The State of the Union address is an annual, constitutionally sanctioned speech delivered like a national progress report— and is a significant task to reschedule. “Reagan positions himself both outside the fray as one presiding over it and as one inside of it who shares its painful reality.”

“Reagan positions the tragedy within a larger picture without losing the significance of the present tragedy.” He names each crew member and praises them for their courage. To further manage our emotions, Reagan again calls us to national mourning, and establishes the primary audience as the collective mourners.

Reagan narrows his focus to the first and most affected sub-audience: the families of the fallen. He acknowledges the inappropriateness of suggesting how they should feel and offers praise they can take hold of with words like “daring,” “brave,” “special grace,” and “special spirit.”

Reagan then draws attention back to the general audience’s interest in the larger scientific story. He then envisions the crew’s place in history as transcending science altogether by calling them pioneers. “The term ‘pioneer’ cloaks them in a mythical covering, one dating back to our nation’s earliest ventures.” The astronauts’ death is portrayed as a reasonable outcome of their endeavors.

Reagan’s next sub-audience is the school children—an estimated five million—among whom are the students of Christa McAuliffe’s class and school. “Reagan momentarily adopts the tone of an empathizing parent which is tough to do while remaining ‘presidential’ but Reagan carries it well.”

Here, Reagan the national eulogist hands off to Reagan the U.S. President. This passage contains the only political statement in the address and is targeted at the Soviet Union. He attacks the secrecy surrounding their failures which had irked American scientists who knew that shared knowledge was the best way to ensure the stability and safety of space programs.

In this direct address to NASA, Reagan gives needed encouragement, and then turns back again to connect to the whole audience by saying “we share it.”

In closing, Reagan creates an eloquent and poetic moment. It captures the mythological sentiment surrounding humanity’s unending quest to solve the mysteries of the unknown. The phrase “touch the face of God”, was taken from a poem entitled “High Flight” written by John Magee, an American aviator in WWII. Magee was inspired to write the poem while climbing to 33,000 feet in his Spitfire. It remains in the Library of Congress today.

President Reagan’s ability to credibly move in and out of different roles for different audience segments was a large part of what made him The Great Communicator. The speech lasted only four short minutes, but it resonated on many levels with the American people—myself included.


On This Day: Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster – HISTORY

At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger‘s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.

Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle broke up in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.

In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft, the Enterprise. Five years later, space flights of the shuttle began when Columbia traveled into space on a 54-hour mission. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider. Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. The Challenger disaster was the first major shuttle accident.

In the aftermath of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what went wrong with Challenger and to develop future corrective measures. The presidential commission was headed by former secretary of state William Rogers, and included former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. The investigation determined that the disaster was caused by the failure of an “O-ring” seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected because of the cold temperature at launch time, which began a chain of events that resulted in the massive loss. As a result, NASA did not send astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of features of the space shuttle.

In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station.

On February 1, 2003, a second space-shuttle disaster rocked the United States when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere. All aboard were killed. Despite fears that the problems that downed Columbia had not been satisfactorily addressed, space-shuttle flights resumed on July 26, 2005, when Discovery was again put into orbit.

The Space Shuttle program formally ended on August 31, 2011 after its final mission, STS-135 flown by Atlantis, in July 2011.


Full text of President Reagan's speech after Challenger disaster

WASHINGTON -- Following is the text of President Reagan's speech mourning the loss of the Challenger astronauts:

Ladies and gentlemen, I planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the union. But the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core over the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight. We'd never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger 7, were aware of the dangers and overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly.

We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together. To the families of the seven, we cannot bear as you do the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, 'Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy.' They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years, the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program. And what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights, and more shuttle crews and yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them, 'Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades and we know of your anguish. We share it.'

There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime, the great frontiers were the oceans and a historian later said, 'He lived by the sea, died on it and was buried in it.' Well, today, we can say of the Challenger crew, their dedication was, like Drake's complete.

The crew of the space shuttle honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them -- this morning -- as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.


Speech on the Challenger Disaster

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But, we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the member of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute. We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: “Your dedication and professionalism have moved an impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.”

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

Three days later, President Reagan delivered the following remarks at a memorial service held in Houston following the Challenger disaster, Jan. 31, 1986.

We come together today to mourn the loss of seven brave Americans, to share the grief we all feel and, perhaps in that sharing, to find the strength to bear our sorrow and the courage to look for the seeds of hope.

Our nation’s loss is first a profound personal loss to the family and the friends and loved ones of our shuttle astronauts. To those they have left behind – the mothers, the fathers, the husbands and wives, brothers, sisters, and yes, especially the children – all of America stands beside you in your time of sorrow.

What we say today is only an inadequate expression of what we carry in our hearts. Words pale in the shadow of grief they seem insufficient even to measure the brave sacrifice of those you loved and we so admired. Their truest testimony will not be in the words we speak, but in the way they led their lives and in the way they lost those lives – with dedication, honor and an unquenchable desire to explore this mysterious and beautiful universe.

The best we can do is remember our seven astronauts – our ChallengerSeven – remember them as they lived, bringing life and love and joy to those who knew them and pride to a nation.

They came from all parts of this great country – from South Carolina to Washington State Ohio to Mohawk, New York Hawaii to North Carolina to Concord, New Hampshire. They were so different, yet in their mission, their quest, they held so much in common.

We remember Dick Scobee, the commander who spoke the last words we heard from the space shuttle Challenger. He served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, earning many medals for bravery, and later as a test pilot of advanced aircraft before joining the space program. Danger was a familiar companion to Commander Scobee.

We remember Michael Smith, who earned enough medals as a combat pilot to cover his chest, including the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals – and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, in gratitude from a nation that he fought to keep free.

We remember Judith Resnik, known as J.R. to her friends, always smiling, always eager to make a contribution, finding beauty in the music she played on her piano in her off-hours.

We remember Ellison Onizuka, who, as a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of Hawaii, dreamed of someday traveling to the Moon. Being an Eagle Scout, he said, had helped him soar to the impressive achievement of his career.

We remember Ronald McNair, who said that he learned perseverance in the cotton fields of South Carolina. His dream was to live aboard the space station, performing experiments and playing his saxophone in the weightlessness of space Ron, we will miss your saxophone and we will build your space station.

We remember Gregory Jarvis. On that ill-fated flight he was carrying with him a flag of his university in Buffalo, New York – a small token he said, to the people who unlocked his future.

We remember Christa McAuliffe, who captured the imagination of the entire nation, inspiring us with her pluck, her restless spiritof discovery a teacher, not just to her students, but to an entire people, instilling us all with the excitement of this journey we ride into the future.

We will always remember them, these skilled professionals, scientists and adventurers, these artists and teachers and family men and women, and we will cherish each of their stories – stories of triumph and bravery, stories of true American heroes.

On the day of the disaster, our nation held a vigil by our television sets. In one cruel moment, our exhilaration turned to horror we waited and watched and tried to make sense of what we had seen. That night, I listened to a call-in program on the radio: people of every age spoke of their sadness and the pride they felt in `our astronauts.’ Across America, we are reaching out, holding hands, finding comfort in one another.

The sacrifice of your loved ones has stirred the soul of our nation and, through the pain, our hearts have been opened to a profound truth – the future is not free, the story of all human progress is one of a struggle against all odds. We learned again that this America, which Abraham Lincoln called the last best hope of man on Earth, was built on heroism and noble sacrifice. It was built by men and women like our seven star voyagers, who answered a call beyond duty, who gave more than was expected or required, and who gave it with little thought to worldly reward.

We think back to the pioneers of an earlier century, and the sturdy souls who took their families and the belongings and set out into the frontier of the American West. Often, they met with terrible hardship. Along the Oregon Trail you can still see the grave markers of those who fell on the way. But grief only steeled them to the journey ahead.

Today, the frontier is space and the boundaries of human knowledge. Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain. Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage, character and fortitude – that we are still blessed with heroes like those of the space shuttle Challenger.

Dick Scobee knew that every launching of a space shuttle is a technological miracle. And he said, if something ever does go wrong, I hope that doesn’t mean the end to the space shuttle program. Every family member I talked to asked specifically that we continue the program, that that is what their departed loved one would want above all else. We will not disappoint them.

Today, we promise Dick Scobee and his crew that their dream lives on that the future they worked so hard to build will become reality. The dedicated men and women of NASA have lost seven members of their family. Still, they too, must forge ahead, with a space program that is effective, safe and efficient, but bold and committed.

Man will continue his conquest of space. To reach out for new goals and ever greater achievements – that is the way we shall commemorate our seven Challenger heroes.

Dick, Mike, Judy, El, Ron, Greg and Christa – your families and your country mourn your passing. We bid you goodbye. We will never forget you. For those who knew you well and loved you, the pain will be deep and enduring. A nation, too, will long feel the loss of her seven sons and daughters, her seven good friends. We can find consolation only in faith, for we know in our hearts that you who flew so high and so proud now make your home beyond the stars, safe in God’s promise of eternal life.


A president’s response

As the nation’s leader, President Reagan decided to address the country about the Challenger tragedy. Putting aside his scheduled State of the Union address before Congress, the President instead delivered an Oval Office address to comfort the people as the nation mourned.

For this speech, he spoke of the great explorer Sir Francis Drake, reminding the people that the dedication of both Drake and the Challenger astronauts was admirable, and will not be forgotten.

In addition to his speech both on the day of the disaster and at the memorial service in Houston, President Reagan wrote letters to those that had lost loved ones. Many wrote back saying how much the President’s words meant to them.

For Students and Educators:

Discussion Questions:

  1. Christa McAuliffe and the other Challenger astronauts inspired our country. Who’s someone that inspires you?
  2. In this speech, President Reagan states, “The future does not belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave.” What do you think this means? Do you agree with this statement? Think for a moment about something that you have done that was hard but rewarding. Pat yourself on the back for doing something brave. If you’d like, write a paragraph about your own experience.

Assignments for Further Research:

  • Look more into the aftermath of the Challenger explosion (you can also look into other space program accidents as well) – what did NASA change in light of what happened? How did they make their shuttles safer for astronauts? (This NARA blog post about the Challenger has information that can help with this question.)
  • We talked about Christa McAuliffe in this article – research one of the other members of the Challenger crew. What were some of their goals?
  • Research the history of America’s space program. Why was the program often titled the space “race?” What were we racing to do?

Additional Information:

Our Education website has multiple assignments relating both to the Challenger and to President Reagan’s speechmaking. Click here to view those documents and files.