Challenger Tragedy: Memorial Service
By Marty McDowell/NASA
A memorial service was held on the mall in front of the Johnson Space
Center in Houston, Texas on January 31, 1986. Among the speakers
eulogizing the crew of Challenger was President Reagan.
"We come together today to mourn the loss of seven brave
Americans, to share the grief we all feel and, perhaps in that sharing, to
find the strength to bear our sorrow and the courage to look for the seeds
Our nation's loss is first a profound personal loss to the family and
the friends and loved ones of our shuttle astronauts. To those they have
left behind - the mothers, the fathers, the husbands and wives, brothers,
sisters, and yes, especially the children - all of America stands beside
you in your time of sorrow.
What we say today is only an inadequate expression of what we carry in
our hearts. Words pale in the shadow of grief; they seem insufficient even
to measure the brave sacrifice of those you loved and we so admired. Their
truest testimony will not be in the words we speak, but in the way they
led their lives and in the way they lost those lives - with dedication,
honor and an unquenchable desire to explore this mysterious and beautiful
The best we can do is remember our seven astronauts - our Challenger
Seven - remember them as they lived, bringing life and love and joy to
those who knew them and pride to a nation.
They came from all parts of this great country - from South Carolina to
Washington State; Ohio to Mohawk, New York; Hawaii to North Carolina to
Concord, New Hampshire. They were so different, yet in their mission,
their quest, they held so much in common.
We remember Dick Scobee, the commander
who spoke the last words we heard from the space shuttle Challenger. He
served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, earning many medals for bravery, and
later as a test pilot of advanced aircraft before joining the space
program. Danger was a familiar companion to Commander Scobee.
We remember Michael Smith, who earned
enough medals as a combat pilot to cover his chest, including the Navy
Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals - and the Vietnamese Cross of
Gallantry with Silver Star, in gratitude from a nation that he fought to
We remember Judith Resnik, known as J.R.
to her friends, always smiling, always eager to make a contribution,
finding beauty in the music she played on her piano in her off-hours.
We remember Ellison Onizuka, who, as
a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of
Hawaii, dreamed of someday traveling to the Moon. Being an Eagle Scout, he
said, had helped him soar to the impressive achievement of his career.
We remember Ronald McNair, who said
that he learned perseverance in the cotton fields of South Carolina. His
dream was to live aboard the space station, performing experiments and
playing his saxophone in the weightlessness of space; Ron, we will miss
your saxophone and we will build your space station.
We remember Gregory Jarvis. On that
ill-fated flight he was carrying with him a flag of his university in
Buffalo, New York - a small token he said, to the people who unlocked his
We remember Christa McAuliffe, who
captured the imagination of the entire nation, inspiring us with her
pluck, her restless spirit of discovery; a teacher, not just to her
students, but to an entire people, instilling us all with the excitement
of this journey we ride into the future.
We will always remember them, these skilled professionals, scientists
and adventurers, these artists and teachers and family men and women, and
we will cherish each of their stories - stories of triumph and bravery,
stories of true American heroes.
On the day of the disaster, our nation held a vigil by our television
sets. In one cruel moment, our exhilaration turned to horror; we waited
and watched and tried to make sense of what we had seen. That night, I
listened to a call-in program on the radio: people of every age spoke of
their sadness and the pride they felt in `our astronauts.' Across America,
we are reaching out, holding hands, finding comfort in one another.
The sacrifice of your loved ones has stirred the soul of our nation
and, through the pain, our hearts have been opened to a profound truth -
the future is not free, the story of all human progress is one of a
struggle against all odds. We learned again that this America, which
Abraham Lincoln called the last best hope of man on Earth, was built on
heroism and noble sacrifice. It was built by men and women like our seven
star voyagers, who answered a call beyond duty, who gave more than was
expected or required, and who gave it with little thought to worldly
We think back to the pioneers of an earlier century, and the sturdy
souls who took their families and the belongings and set out into the
frontier of the American West. Often, they met with terrible hardship.
Along the Oregon Trail you can still see the grave markers of those who
fell on the way. But grief only steeled them to the journey ahead.
Today, the frontier is space and the boundaries of human knowledge.
Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick
ourselves up again and press on despite the pain. Our nation is indeed
fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage,
character and fortitude - that we are still blessed with heroes like those
of the space shuttle Challenger.
Dick Scobee knew that every launching of a space shuttle is a
technological miracle. And he said, if something ever does go wrong, I
hope that doesn't mean the end to the space shuttle program. Every family
member I talked to asked specifically that we continue the program, that
that is what their departed loved one would want above all else. We will
not disappoint them.
Today, we promise Dick Scobee and his crew that their dream lives on;
that the future they worked so hard to build will become reality. The
dedicated men and women of NASA have lost seven members of their family.
Still, they too, must forge ahead, with a space program that is effective,
safe and efficient, but bold and committed.
Man will continue his conquest of space. To reach out for new goals and
ever greater achievements - that is the way we shall commemorate our seven
Dick, Mike, Judy, El, Ron, Greg and Christa - your families and your
country mourn your passing. We bid you goodbye. We will never forget you.
For those who knew you well and loved you, the pain will be deep and
enduring. A nation, too, will long feel the loss of her seven sons and
daughters, her seven good friends. We can find consolation only in faith,
for we know in our hearts that you who flew so high and so proud now make
your home beyond the stars, safe in God's promise of eternal life.
May God bless you all and give you comfort in this difficult