A Time to Mourn

Challenger Crew

Challenger Crew

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 school children 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 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 their
journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

Ronald Reagan
Address to the nation on the Challenger disaster
from the Oval Office
January 28, 1986

Video of the Challenger launch


I had other things on my mind today, but this trumps everything.  I was at home in bed with the chicken pox, tuned in and ready to watch.  Well, watch I did, and I still get misty…

This entry was posted in History.

20 comments on “A Time to Mourn

  1. gaylen says:

    See what I mean – who would think 23 years later to remind us about this. You have the words 🙂 I too remember that day – although I lived in England at the time and had a wee baby (she was only a couple of weeks old). It was a very sad day for sure. g

  2. Dianne says:

    I remember that day so very well. I was in student teaching at the time. I hated it. Every minute of it. I didn’t have the patience to deal with a room full of first graders. When we heard about the Challenger, I thought to myself “I wish I was on that thing instead of here with these kids.” That day, I made the decision to never, ever teach. It wasn’t good for me, and it wouldn’t have been good for the kids in my classes.

  3. Sue says:

    We were all shaken by the Challenger, but Columbia broke up on my birthday. That’s the one that really got to me.

  4. Dawn says:

    I remember being in school and seeing this.I lived right near the road they drove it on to get it out to Edwards Air Force base and remember watching it. They have named that road Challenger in memory of it. A lot of the roads here are named after the different space crafts. Very sad and shocking day it was…

  5. CathyT says:

    Thanks Chan – it is important for us to remember. That day, like 9/11, I just could not BELIEVE what I was hearing on the phone – and we rushed around trying to find a radio so we could find out what was happening.

  6. grace says:

    I was on my way to ShopRite to get groceries for lunch,a friend was coming over, we spent the afternoon glued to the television, and February 1st is the 6th anniversary of the re-entry disaster.

  7. I remember that day very well, too. I was expecting kid two in two weeks, and my have been a bit hormal, as well…The nation was watching and we are not likely to forget such a moment any time soon.

  8. Bubblesknits says:

    Funny how it sticks in your mind where you where. I had been at a dentist’s appointment and we had stopped at a bbq place where they were showing replays on the news of the accident. I remember how quiet the restaurant was, even though it was full to the brim.

  9. anniebananie says:

    I remember that day. I was at Virginia Tech, a freshman, second quarter. I was in class and had stopped by the dorm to pick something up. Someone said that the Challenger blew up. I stopped and stood glued to the TV and missed my next class. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day.

  10. Natalie says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us today.

  11. Marjie says:

    I was in my office on a cold January day, when our plant foreman came racing in, bellowing that his wife had just phoned and the Challenger had blown up. We went to my car, turned on the radio, and listened in horror. It’s a day I will never forget, either; thank you for reprinting President Reagan’s words. The man was a master wordsmith who had an amazing ability to soothe our hearts.

  12. Amanda says:

    Remember it as if it was yesterday. Mr. McAuliffe still lives in Concord, NH and has remarried. I don’t know him personally, but people say that he is a very nice man.

    Thanks for the gentle reminder of the day.

  13. Sue J. says:

    Thank you for reminding me of so much today: the tragedy of the Challenger, the courage of the astronauts, and the ability of The Great Communicator to assuage our grief. Lest we forget.

  14. km says:

    I was in 4th grade. We watched this together on a TV in our classroom. I remember the Columbia tragedy too…I was a pregnant with my 5… Both of those days are so vivid in my memory.

  15. splnotebook says:

    Boy does time fly….

  16. lauriec says:

    I was a freshman at UVM & waiting for my EDSS 24 class to start when a friend of mine told us the shuttle had exploded. I can still see her face & those of the girls I was sitting with when we found out.

  17. I remember that disaster vividly. I was in 8th grade, and we all watched it in the science classroom. Dick Scobee is from my home state, and later that year on a school trip to DC, we visited his grave at Arlington.

  18. nichole says:

    I was in my classroom watching…….

  19. Kim says:

    Thank you that is very important.

    I will never forget the Columbia disaster because I woke up on my wedding day to see that on the news.

  20. Kathy says:

    I was at home nursing my 12 yr old son who had mono and we both watched it in horror. Just like 9-11, one never forgets where they were on those tragic days.

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