My heart still wrenches when I think of this…
Source: NASA, click on image for source
I was in college and stopped to use a campus phone to call my friend Deb. I had call to ask her for a “soap opera” update… (yeah, go figure) She replied, “It’s not on. The shuttle just blew up.” I thought she was joking. Then I ran across campus and we sat on the edge of her bed glued to the TV.
That night, President Ronald Reagan canceled the State of the Union address and instead gave the following speech. The end is so moving…:
Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger ~January 28, 1986
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 schoolchildren 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
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 an
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 goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of
As I said, the end is so moving…
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 goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’
The Offspring and I talked about the last bit of his speech recently. We were listening to Kenny G’s Auld Lang Syne . Do you know the source of it? I didn’t… so I looked it up… John Gillespie Magee, Jr. wrote it in 1941.
High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Manuscript on file at U.S. Library of Congress
Where were you when you heard of this horrible catastrophe?