Study Guide

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Address Quotes

By Ronald Reagan

  • Sadness

    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. (1-2)

    Reagan's not going to give the historic State of the Union address. But don't be sad because he's going to talk about something equally historic...but do be sad because that thing is a nightmare unique to the technological conditions of the 20th century.

    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. (3-5)

    Remember Nancy, the First Lady who hangs out with daytime television stars and furry puppets? Reagan wants to make sure you do, and that you know the both of them, former movie stars and examples of unattainable American wholesomeness, are sad just like all of the real people.

    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. (6-7)

    NASA's seen an explosion or two in its time, but this one is especially bad because it seemed like the mission was going perfectly until the moment it went absolutely haywire. It was a sudden and shocking turn of events.

    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. (9-10)

    There's a Snow White joke in here somewhere, but that would be tasteless. The Challenger Seven are named as much to identify them as to honor them. We mourn as a nation because it is with our united strength that we make it through sadness and press on.

    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. (11-12)

    This is sort of like Reagan delivered a very tasteful sympathy card or dropped off a freshly baked tuna casserole to the surviving family members. He's offering his condolences.

  • Exploration

    They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. (14)

    For the Challenger Seven, exploration was an urge that needed constant fulfillment. It was as natural as being hungry. And judging by their decision to become astronauts, it wasn't some after-school snack attack that needed satisfying.

    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. (17-22)

    It's amazing to think that some people find the greatest technological achievements in the history of humankind to be boring. But apparently Reagan thought it was necessary to point that out and tell America, "Hey, don't be so jaded!" He also provides a bigger picture as far as space travel is concerned. In 1986, and even now, space exploration was very new endeavor for humankind. So don't be so blasé about it.

    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. (23-26)

    Removed from the context of the speech, does Reagan's address to the "schoolchildren of America" seem to do adequate damage control? Or is it more like, "Hey kids, sorry you had to see that. You'll understand when you're older. Maybe stick to the radio for a while"?

    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. (34-36)

    And more taco trucks in space, and more strips malls in space, and more...Reagan seems awfully confident in this passage about the future endeavors of NASA, which would actually have its Space Shuttle Program stalled until September 1988.

    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. (40-43)

    Reagan torques up the mythological status of the Challenger Seven here with his comparison to Sir Francis Drake, because what better way to ensure the historical legacy of someone than by placing them in the same camp as someone else with an already long-established historical legacy?

  • Courage

    […] 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. (8)

    Perhaps you've forgotten about their courage? Reagan makes a really important point here: being an astronaut is an insanely dangerous profession and anyone who can handle that kind of stress and still perform highly skilled tasks is amazing.

    For the families of the seven […] 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." (11-13)

    Reagan adds another layer to the heroic image of the Challenger Seven that he builds throughout the speech.

    The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. (27)

    So if America doesn't remain brave in the face of this disaster, then it loses its grip on the future.

    The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. (28)

    Reagan implies that the Challenger Seven were already part of the future (because of their bravery), and even though they were killed in action, they still symbolically remain there. He turns them into beacons of the future and trailblazers whose excellence we should strive to emulate.

    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." (44-45)

    Reagan gets a bit spiritual here, citing a poem originally written in 1941 by a nineteen-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot. He's reiterating the Challenger Seven's heroism and suggests their presence in heaven.

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