Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Address

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On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger crashed after takeoff, killing astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, Elison Onizuka, and schoolteacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe. Many people, including children who had come to see the takeoff, witnessed the blast. The blast was also seen in many classrooms since “NASA had prepared for live streams of the launch in many classrooms so children could watch the first teacher enter space,” according to NASA (Barajas, par. 2). The explosion occurred 73 seconds after takeoff over the Atlantic Ocean “leaving the memorable image of a Y-shaped plume of smoke across the otherwise sunny sky” (Barajas, par. 1). The tragedy called for an explanation and this responsibility fell on President Ronald Reagan who delivered the challenger address, which focused on commemorating the astronauts for their service, addressed the issue, comforted the viewers, and encouraged future space exploration.


The Challenger address began by offering the larger picture on the success of space exploration and that such a tragedy had never occurred. He praises and mourns the seven, “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.” The president calls for national mourning depicting the bound as a nation for the tragedy, “We mourn their loss as a nation together.” The President comforted the country saying, “Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger" and "We share this pain with all off the people of our country." In these statements, the president made the speech personal by including his wife and then expands the viewpoint to all Americans showing that he felt the pain all the Americans felt. The president shared his heartfelt empathy on the families who lost their loved ones stating, “For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do the full impact of this tragedy.” The president addresses the children explaining the tragedy, “I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen,” and explained “It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. ... The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.” Addressing the children and the youth who watched the tragedy he offers comfort to the audience and acknowledges the role of the youth in nation-building.

Resilience and Hope:

The president then called for resilience and hope for the future and urged the public not to let the tragedy affect efforts towards the exploration of space, “yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.” The president calls for support of future space exploration and a willingness to achieve the aims despite the challenges on the way including the loss of life by the challenger seven. He stated, “\"We'll continue our quest in space.\" And that \"Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue\" depicting the commitment to continue space exploration. The president also lauded and comforted all who worked on the project showing his empathy and appreciation for NASA.


The speech had the most impact delivering comfort not just for the families, children, and the astronauts but the nation at large. The speech was received well even from the fiercest of President Ronald’s critics including House Speaker Tip O’Neil stating “It was a trying day for all Americans," “and Ronald Reagan spoke to our highest ideals” (Cannon, last par.). The speech is one of the most memorable and effective speeches of all time.

Work Cited

Cannon, Carl. Challenger, Reagan and a powerful, unplanned speech. January 28, 2014. Real Clear Politics. Web. April 1, 2017.

Reagan, Ronald Wilson. "Challenger Speech." White House. 28 Jan. 1983. American Rhetoric. Web. April 1, 2017.

January 18, 2023

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