On the space shuttle explosion
White House, Washington
January 28, 1986
President Reagan had planned to deliver his annual State of the Union address on the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded killing all seven crew members aboard. Instead, he used the occasion to express condolences to the families of the victims and confidence in the U.S. space program.
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, 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 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 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,
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."
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