On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was making its tenth flight into space. This shuttle had a crew of seven including a teacher from the Teachers in Space program. Seventy-three seconds after the shuttle was launched, a fire erupted and the shuttle exploded, finally landing in the ocean. President Ronald Reagan had originally planned on speaking on the state of the Union at that time; however, the events of that morning created a new need to address the nation. In President Reagan's "The Space Shuttle 'Challenger' Tragedy Address", his purpose was to address the nation on the issue and offer his condolences to the friends and family of the Challenger Seven who had died that morning while more so encouraging further space exploration to beat the Soviet Union.
President Reagan establishes at the beginning that "today is a day for mourning and remembering" to show his grief over the tragedy that morning had brought to the American people. His speech was full of compassion for the families of the seven astronauts who had died that morning as he admits that "we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy" (Reagan). Reagan is showing respect for the families by openly admitting he cannot understand completely their loss that morning while still reminding them that "we feel the loss, and we are thinking about you so very much". The nation is brought together during this tragedy while "we mourn their loss as a nation together" (Reagan), reminding everyone that the whole nation knew about the tragedy and was devastated by the accident the "Challenger" had gone through that morning. Reagan is able to meet every need of his audience by informing the nation, showing his own personal grief, and offering an explanation to the school children that "sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery". Figure one is an example of President Reagan's sorrow shown through his solemn tone while giving his speech to the nation, offering his condolences and encouragement.
Fig. 1 Reagan, Ronald. "Ronald Reagan The Space Shuttle 'Challenger' Tragedy Address." Speech. 28 January 1986. Youtube. 5 October 2010.
The encouragement to further space exploration is prevalent in Reagan's speech, stating "We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights…". He believes "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave" (Reagan), meaning the United States cannot give up after one incident because "Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue" (Reagan). President Reagan provides "we are still pioneers"; no one can expect everything to go perfectly every time, giving reason that the United States' space program has to continue. The speech allows the listener to keep their faith in the space program as their president does by stating "I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program. And what happened today does nothing to diminish it" (Reagan). Reagan's wish to have a more advanced and better respected space program than the Soviet Union is apparent. "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" (Reagan). His rather open disapproval of the way the Soviet Union is operating their space program provides information on the issue of space exploration between the United States and the Soviet Union; their Space Race is not yet over.
Reagan successfully meets all of the requirements his speech, and the tragedy, brought to him. He is able to sympathize with the families and friends of the "Challenger Seven" while also bringing the nation together in a time of tragedy. President Reagan reminds the nation "And perhaps we've forgotten the courage of the crew of the shuttle". He wants them remembered as heroes, and so refers to them as such in his speech. While speaking directly to the schoolchildren who were watching the shuttle launch, Reagan comforts them and reassures the nation that space exploration must, and will, continue. The president wants everyone to embrace the same spirit as the "Challenger Seven", "Give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy" (Reagan).
Reagan, Ronald. "Space Shuttle 'Challenger' Tragedy Address."American Rhetoric.Np.,28 Jan. 1986.Web.5 Oct. 2010
“Challenger Disaster.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 5 Oct. 2010. http://www.history.com/topics/challenger-disaster.
“The Space Race.” Digital History. N.p., 5 Oct. 2010. Web. 5 Oct. 2010.