Reagan’s Challenger SpeechOn January 28, 1986, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Challenger Speech. The delivery of this speech came at a time when America was in shock, mourning, and fear having seen the space shuttle, Challenger; explode in the sky just moments after lifting off. President Reagan was going to deliver his State of the Union Address that same day. His plan was to address the shuttle while delivering his state of the union. (http://www.eatthestate.org/08-20/NaturePolitics.htm). When Reagan delivered the televised Challenger speech to the public he succeeded in making us feel that he too was part of the public. He did not come across as the president but as a fellow American. Hence his audience was to each and every American, including him and wife Nancy, as though they were our neighbor or family member. The occasion of Reagan’s speech came across as ceremonial and also deliberate.
The ceremonial aspect of his speech was that of eulogy and also praise of the seven who were lost as well as all of the people who make up our space program. He named each person who was killed on the space shuttle and also addressed their families extending sympathy and gratitude. The occasion aspect of his speech was also deliberative in that he spoke with great promise for the future. He states that “nothing ends here” the space shuttle program will continue. The occasion aspect was also exigence because the Challenger issue could not have been avoided, the President needed to make a public speech addressing the Challenger and also needed to reassure (manage) the American people that all was well and that we must move forward. The speech aspect of Reagan’s rhetorical situation was shaped to the future. His speech contained approximately two minutes speaking of the future of the space program and also what it takes to get there.
While addressing the school children who were watching, Reagan states that “the future belongs to the brave.” The speaker aspect of this rhetorical situation comes across certain, trustworthy, very sincere, respectful and thankful. Reagan also appeared strong and comforting. Reagan’s speech is made even more credible because he only had a short period of time to write the speech. He delivered this speech only six hours after the disaster had occurred. Morrow of Time Magazine wrote an article that summed up the mood of the American public at the time of the Shuttle disaster. He writes that the shuttle program had become routine, and that the American people were filled with anguish when it exploded. (Time, Morrow, 2/10/1986.) Regan managed to calm the publics fears and gave us a renewed confidence in our leader. Throughout the Reagan presidency he maintained an average approval rating of 60% or better. To emphasize the record of the space program, Reagan states that it had been 19 years since any astronaut was killed and that the accident that took their lives occurred on the ground. We had never lost an American in space.
While Reagan related to all of us on a personal level, he also succeeded in making the tragedy a result of something heroic in nature. He let us know where we the American people were going, (with the space program) and that our quest into space was still young but not over. Regan called this disaster a national loss and compared the shuttle crew to Sir Francis Drake. He stated that Drake had lived by the sea, died by the sea, and was buried by the sea. This analogy simple in nature, was easy to comprehend and it also showed that explorers do take risks when searching in uncharted waters. Reagan close his speech “they slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.” This line was simply a superb way to end his speech. However; the line was taken from a sonnet written by WWII pilot John Gillespie Magee titled “High Flight”. (Newsweek, Stroup, 2-17-2003). In summary, President Ronald Reagan came before a grieving nation on January 28, 1986 and delivered not just a speech but a speech that contained empathy, compassion, and also certainty and strength. He assured us that although this disaster was a tragedy to us all that we would move forward and conquer new heights. He succeeded in calming fears, extending condolences, shaping the future and showing us that he was “one of us”