Reagan: Nation mourns loss of shuttle, but will continue quest in space


WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 1986 (UPI) -- President Reagan scrapped his State of the Union speech Tuesday to mourn the crew of the shuttle Challenger as fallen heroes and he promised, ''We'll continue our quest in space. ... Nothing ends here.''

''The future doesn't belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave,'' Reagan said in a nationally televised late-afternoon address from the Oval Office less than six hours after the spacecraft blew up. ''The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow.''


Leading the nation in mourning, Reagan postponed his fifth State of the Union address to Congress for a week. Instead he spoke somberly about the explosion that shattered Challenger and left no evidence of survivors among its seven-member crew -- including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.

Reagan, for whom Tuesday was to have kicked off an aggressive weeklong campaign to promote his political agenda for 1986, said the day instead had been transformed into one ''of mourning and remembering.''


''Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger,'' he said. ''We know we share this pain with all of the people of this country. This is truly a national loss.''

Some nine hours before his scheduled appearance before Congress to paint a bright future for America, Reagan watched the worst disaster in the history of the manned space program in what an aide described as ''stunned silence.''

The State of the Union postponement was announced less than one hour after Reagan told network correspondents that although a pall had been cast over his speech, ''you can't stop governing a nation because of a tragedy of this kind.''

''I think the president, like all Americans, has seen this tragedy unfold on television,'' White House spokesman Larry Speakes explained to reporters, ''and has felt keenly what those family members must have felt watching that shuttle go into the air at the Cape -- first, pride, and second, horror.''

In response to the shuttle catastrophe, Reagan sent Vice President George Bush to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to convey his ''personal concern'' to relatives of the Challenger crew, Speakes said. He also ordered acting NASA Administrator William Graham to accompany Bush and ''begin an effort to find out the cause of this tragedy,'' Speakes said.


Reagan also ordered the space agency to ''go forward with the nation's space program'' as a tribute to the shuttle crew of six astronauts and New Hampshire teacher McAuliffe, the first private citizen chosen for a space mission.

In his TV address, Reagan said, ''These people were dedicated to the exploration of space. We can do no more to honor them, these courageous Americans, than to go forward with the program.''

Addressing the nation's children, who were especially drawn to the flight because of McAuliffe's presence, Reagan said:

''I know it's hard to understand but sometimes painful things like this happen. But they're all part of the process of exploration and discovery, all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave.''

''We'll continue our quest in space,'' he vowed, with more shuttle flights and more crews, including ''more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space.

''Nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue.''

The White House said, however, there would be no more shuttle flights until the cause of the tragedy is determined.

For 25 years, Reagan said, the American people have been dazzled by the nation's near-flawless exploration of space and may have lost sight at times of the fact that ''we're still pioneers.''


Reagan, who spoke for just more than four minutes, likened the Challenger crew members to the English explorer Sir Francis Drake, who died 390 years ago to the day on his ship off the coast of Panama, and said they carried on Drake's quest to expand the frontier of knowledge.

''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,''' Reagan said, borrowing a line from the poem ''High Flight.''

The explosion, which destroyed the workhorse Challenger as it began its 10th flight, had an especially sharp impact on the White House because of the McAufliffe, the winner of a presidential directive issued by Reagan on Aug. 27, 1984, that NASA ''choose as the first citizen-passenger in the history of our space program one of America's best: a teacher.''

However, Speakes said Reagan had not expressed regret about his decision to launch a teacher into space. ''Concern? Yes. Deep emotion? Yes. Sorrow? Yes. But regret? Not that,'' Speakes said.

Reagan was in the Oval Office preparing for a pre-State of the Union interview with network anchormen when Bush and national security adviser John Poindexter burst in with news of the shuttle disaster at about 11:40 a.m. EST.


Accompanied by a smaller group of advisers, Reagan adjourned to an adjacent study to watch a TV replay of the explosion. ''Quite frankly,'' Speakes said, ''the president stood there in stunned silence as he watched the television. You could read the concern, the sorrow, the anxiety on his face.''

Reagan recalled the moment as ''a very traumatic experience.'' His wife, Nancy, watching the shuttle launch in the family quarters of the White House, exclaimed, ''Oh my God! No!'' an aide said.

The decision to postpone the State of the Union, as well as a busy schedule of appearances over the next few days to promote its themes, was made in urgent consultations between the White House and Congress.

Speakes said the initiative came from Reagan, although senior presidential advisers and key members of Congress were known to have urged postponement on grounds that going ahead with the speech -- as Reagan had said he was prepared to do -- would be inappropriate.

Pending detailed information on the cause of the explosion, administration officials were reluctant to discuss its effects on the shuttle program or the overall U.S. manned space flight.

Calling space ''the last frontier,'' Reagan said, ''The world is a hazardous place -- always has been in pioneering.''


Speakes accused reporters of ''leapfrogging well ahead of events'' by raising questions about independent investigations, future flights by civilians or a possible shift away from the manned shuttle back to rockets to put satellites into orbit -- the main money-maker of the shuttle program.

The White House avoided any suggestions of criticism of NASA and Reagan made a point in his televised talk to thanks the men and women of the space agency, sayings, ''Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades.''

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