Study Guide

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Address Main Idea

By Ronald Reagan

  • Main Idea

    Though it likely was not channeling a vinyl decal on the back of an 18-wheeler, Reagan's message can be boiled down to "keep on truckin'." Persevere. Keep on keepin' on.

    When he later commented on the speech, he said he knew he had to convince the American people, specifically all of the children who were never going to eat a bomb pop again, "...that life does go on and you don't back up and quit some worthwhile endeavor because of tragedy" (source).

    He was basically saying, "I'm still truckin'. NASA's still truckin'. So you'd better keep on truckin', too."

    …just with a little more finesse.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why was it so important for Reagan to appear strong and composed when giving his speech?
    2. In what way did Reagan both encourage and comfort his audience? What kind of language does he use?
    3. What does the incorporation of poetry in the speech have on its overall impact? What kind of response is Reagan hoping to elicit?
    4. Why do you think Reagan went to such great lengths to place the Challenger Disaster within a broader historical context?

    Chew on This

    Presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan deliberately used lyrical language in her speech for Reagan in order to appeal to the American people by relying on sentimentality.

    Reagan's well-crafted delivery of a well-crafted speech was a transparent political maneuver to improve his public approval ratings.

  • Brief Summary

      

    The Set-Up

    President Reagan hopped on the ol' boob tube to do some major damage control after a devastating rocketship disaster and reassured America that going to space was still an awesome thing to do.

    The Text

    Since seven people had just died, Reagan opens his speech on a rather somber note. He talks a lot about how awful it is when sudden tragedy strikes and pays significant tribute to the freshly deceased Challenger Flight Crew. He makes a point of honoring their bravery because being an astronaut takes some intestinal fortitude (in every sense).

    He makes a smooth segue into promoting the benefits of NASA, which are spectacular, heroic, and trailblazing. At the same time he very strategically speaks directly to the "schoolchildren of America" (23) who witnessed the disaster on TV, attempting to comfort them and reduce the number of sleepless nights to follow.

    He rounds out his discussion of NASA with a verbal salute to the employees of the space program and adds a quick promo for the American values of honesty, freedom, and, exploration.

    Reagan starts to tie things up by getting a little fancy, invoking Sir Francis Drake as a predecessor of the Challenger Seven in the quest for human progress and adventure.

    Finally, he concludes with a poetic citation that gives everyone the vapors.

    TL;DR

    Sky rockets in flight don't always mean afternoon delight, but a little thing like a catastrophe isn't going to keep America grounded.

  • Questions

    1. How is a speech delivered via television different than one delivered in public? Imagine what it would have been like if Reagan delivered this speech in a stadium. Would it have been successful?
    2. Does President Reagan adequately justify the loss of the astronauts' lives in the name of scientific breakthroughs? Justify your answer.
    3. Reagan never directly references the U.S.S.R., but how can you infer that he was referencing the political conditions of the Cold War?
    4. Is it possible that Reagan's speech was just as much for the Soviets as it was for Americans?
    5. How might you respond to Reagan's speech if you were a family member or friend of one of the Challenger Seven? Would you find it an appropriate elegy…or a political stunt?
    6. Does Reagan's language favor a strictly Christian perspective?

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