Question-and-Answer Session With Students at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia

February 7, 1986

Funding for NASAM

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. What effect will the space shuttle tragedy have on NASA's funding?

The President. I don't think that it is going to have any effect with regard to, for example, withdrawing of funds or not; and certainly, I will oppose and fight any effort to do that. I think you might all be interested to know that on the day of the tragedy, I phoned the families, all of them that were present on there. And without exception, all of those grief-stricken people that I talked to said to me: ``You must continue the program. This is the way they would have wanted it.'' And we are going -- it will be delayed for a while because of the investigation to make sure we don't have the same thing happen again, while we try to find out the cause of the accident. But, no, I'm going to continue to fight for funding our space program and going forward with the space station.

Q. Okay, thank you.

Views on the Presidency

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. From your boyhood on into manhood, did you ever have dreams or ambitions of becoming President of the United States, or was your decision to go into politics a response to world affairs?

The President. I have to tell you that, no, I never thought about politics or anything. In those years, when I went from radio sports announcing to Hollywood and to motion pictures, I was very happy in my work. And if anyone had ever suggested to me that I would do this, I would have bet the house and farm I wouldn't. But I did always believe that you had to pay your way. And I've been blessed in a number of ways, and so -- in Hollywood, if you don't sing or dance, you wind up as an after-dinner speaker. [Laughter] And so I did that, and I always tried to campaign for candidates and causes that I believed in.

And I made a speech in behalf of a Presidential candidate [Barry Goldwater] that was broadcast nationwide in 1964. And the next thing I knew I was being assailed by people to run for Governor of California. And I thought they were wrong. And I told them over and over again, I'll campaign for someone else. And they kept insisting that I was the only one that could win for our party in that election. And finally, I began to think, well, if they're right and I'm wrong, will I ever be able to sleep again if I don't do it? So, Nancy and I spent some sleepless nights, and finally I said all right.

And, you know, looking back, I think that I said all right, thinking all I had to do was win the election and then that would be all over, and I'd go back to doing what I was doing. [Laughter] I found out I got the job. But I must say, after several months of that, we both looked at each other and said that this was the most exciting thing we'd ever done in our lives -- to not just be making an after-dinner speech about it, but to be dealing with the problems themselves. And so, I am most grateful that my course changed.

Prayer in Schools

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Dawn Lee. The Constitution calls for the separation of church and state. In your State of the Union Address you proposed making prayer in schools legal. With so many different cultures and religions in our nation's public schools, how can you make prayer in schools legal?

The President. All right. Let me just say, and let me give you just an example that I happened to mention the other day. On that tragedy that happened last week, and that I mentioned, all over this country -- in city halls, in statehouses, in the offices of the Nation's Capital here -- people stopped and prayed for the seven who had lost their lives. And yet you, the young people in schools, were denied that privilege to do that in your own schools. I have never asked for a doctrinaire prayer or a school to dictate a prayer or how anyone would worship. I have simply said that I believe that students should have the right and privilege to voluntarily pray within school if they want to. And that's up to them, and no one that doesn't care to or whose religion is different -- they can pursue their own courses. But I don't think there should be anyplace in this nation where anyone is denied the right to appeal to whatever God they worship.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. Rumberger. Mr. President, we're running a little behind. We have time for one last question, sir.

The President. All right. I'm sorry. I should have not talked so long.

Scientific Experiments in Space

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. Is there any chance of sending a civilian up in space again? If so, will it be a teacher to fulfill the dream of Christa McAullife?

The President. Yes. I don't believe that this tragedy in any way should affect the policy that we had that space, if it is the last frontier, and it should not just be left to individuals -- scientists or career people who are going up there simply to explore in space.

There are so many experiments that have given already so much to us. For example, we know in one disease, diabetes -- and so far incurable -- we have reason to believe from experiments done already in the shuttle program by scientists that have gone up with the astronauts that it is possible, if there is a space station, to manufacture a medicine that will cure diabetes. Already, however, from the things we have learned there, we are able to monitor heart patients who are going about their daily work. And yet with a piece of equipment perfected there, their doctor can be seeing at what time of the day this individual showed stress that could be affecting his heart condition, and then could say to the patient on the next call, ``All right, what were you doing at 2 o'clock in the afternoon?'' and thus determine what are the things in the person's lifestyle that are causing the stress that endangers the heart. We've even gone so far as to develop a fabric in experiments up in space that is going to cut hours and hours every day off the time that fishermen have to stay out there -- commercial fishermen -- with their nets. It is an improved fishing net, believe it or not. So -- we even also have another implant that we can make for a patient that requires -- well, like insulin shots. And this will be computerized, implanted, and will automatically inject in the necessary glands the medicine that is needed, without having to go into an office and have shots given and so forth.

So, no, space belongs to all of us and to the people. And the people can benefit. And, you bet, teachers are still on the list to go up.

Q. Thank you.


Mr. Rumberger. Thank you, Mr. President, for your time. We realize you are running a little late and you have a State Department luncheon to attend. We have just two further presentations for you, sir.

The President. All right -- --

Mr. Rumberger. Mr. President, you've honored us here today, and we thank you for coming to visit with us. On behalf of our students and our faculty, we have a gift to you. And Mr. Murphy and I would like to present that to you. And I'd like to read this to the audience so you'll know what we're giving the President. And it's a framed, inscribed quote from one of his old friends. It's Thomas Jefferson. And it says, ``I have long entertained the hope that this, our native state, would make an establishment where every branch of science deemed useful of this day should be taught in its highest degree.'' Presented to Ronald W. Reagan on the occasion of his visit to the Thomas Jefferson High School and the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, February 7, 1986.

The President. May I just say a goodbye, and I know I'm late and I'm going to have to run, but I just want to tell you what this morning has meant to me in meeting all of you and seeing what you're accomplishing here. I am so much more optimistic about the 21st century than I was when I came here this morning -- and I was pretty optimistic then. And you have done that. And you've convinced me -- I'm going to stick around for a good part of that century. [Laughter] Thank you.

Mr. Rumberger. Mr. President, we have one final gift to you from our students.

Note: The exchange began at 12:06 p.m. in the school gymnasium. Afterwards, the students sang ``Happy Birthday'' to the President. Dale Rumberger was a special-projects teacher at the school.