Ladies and gentlemen, I plan to speak to you tonight to report on the State of the
Union, but the events of earlier today led me to change those plans. Today is a
day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core over 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 7, 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. The families of the Seven, we cannot bear as you do, the full impact
of this tragedy, but we feel the loss and we are 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 began. 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’s 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 upfront 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
for 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.