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.”
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…