Remarks to Employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the First Anniversary of the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger

January 28, 1987

Today is a day to commemorate and a day to salute. We commemorate the magnificent Challenger Seven, whom we lost last year at this time, and we salute you, the men and women of America's NASA team. America will never forget that terrible moment a year ago when our elation turned to horror and then to grief and pain. Seven of our finest perished as they reached for the boundaries of space, where Earth ends and the path to the stars begins.

No, we will never forget them. They represented so much of the best that is in our land. There were Dick Scobee and Michael Smith, both heroes of battle, both experienced test pilots, both with the heart and soul the great explorers have always had -- always searching, always reaching. There were Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, and Gregory Jarvis. They were pioneers of the mind as well as the stars. From every corner of America, they had come -- and from many backgrounds -- to join hands in a common adventure. Don't they, by their example, tell us just why it is our blessed land has become so great? And of course, there was Christa McAuliffe, whose profession was among humanity's most honored and revered: that of a teacher. She had hoped on that mission to give history's first lessons from space, lessons that were to be beamed to schoolchildren across America and around the world. Well, she never got to give those lessons in space science, but she and the others did teach America's children something, nevertheless, something precious, something enduring, something perhaps more valuable than any other lesson they will ever learn.

I remember in the hours and days following the tragedy there was talk of the permanent trauma the children of America might suffer as a result of viewing the shuttle disaster. And, yes, the events that day did leave their impression on them, but not the one that we feared -- no, instead, one that can make us all proud of the strength and spirit, the courage and love, of our young people. You can see that lesson reflected in one simple fact: The number of new memberships in our Young Astronauts Program has never been higher. This past year I spoke to a meeting of the Young Astronauts, and I can tell you that another place that lesson is reflected is in those Young Astronauts eyes. They know that exploration has its risks. They know that with adventure also goes danger. They know all this, but they also know something far more important: something about the spirit and sense of joy that have kept man reaching through the ages to grasp for the limits of his universe and beyond that, despite hardships and peril, kept explorers like Columbus, Magellan, and Drake sailing into uncharted oceans, that, despite comforts they left behind, kept pioneers like Boone, Carson, and Clark crossing America's frontier, that keep us still reaching for the unknown. Christa McAuliffe and all the magnificent Challenger Seven taught this lesson of courage, spirit, and love to America's children, and now it's for all of us to learn the lesson from them.

This has been a year of careful self-examination at NASA. Under the able leadership of Jim Fletcher, you've moved quickly to implement the recommendations of the Phillips task force and the Rogers commission and have just completed a broad and important reorganization. Everyone on the NASA team has again shown their dedication, their commitment to excellence, and now NASA has begun to resume its forward progress. This year we mark the third decade of space exploration. In those three decades, with NASA in the lead, mankind has received images from the outer reaches of our planetary system, sampled the climate of Mars, learned new and undreamed of truths about our own planet, and landed a man on the Moon.

In the next three decades NASA will again lead in mankind's dreams. In just 2 years Voyager II will pass Neptune and unlock for us the secrets of that distant brother to our own Earth. By the end of the next decade, the Galileo orbiter and probe will tell us more than ever before about Jupiter; and the Hubble space telescope will be in orbit, looking into deep space, helping us understand the creation of solar systems like our own; and in an international project, the Ulysses probe will teach us more about the Sun. These unmanned projects are the scouts for manned space travel of decades to come. In the next decade we in America will continue man's personal adventure into space. You will soon be starting development on the space station to have it ready by the midnineties. The space station will be our gateway to the universe, our foothold in outer space, the keystone of our space program. With it as our base camp, we will be able to reach the planets and, perhaps one day, to the stars. We hope our friends and allies will join us in this great adventure.

But that's not all you'll be doing in the decade and more to come. Here at home, you'll be shrinking the Earth as humanity never before dreamed. You will be developing a space plane, so that one day ordinary travelers can take off on the east coast of the United States and land in Japan a little over 2 hours later. And one other thing: In the next decade we will build and fly a new space shuttle. For me, this is a special commitment. In the first moments of grief and shock, the bereaved families of the crew urged us to carry on and keep the space program moving forward. We owe it to them and to those whom we, too, lost to do just that. Now, I know that voices have been raised from time to time saying, ``Oh yes, it's exciting and adventurous, but does it have any practical value to justify its costs?''

Well, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Perhaps we've been derelict in not doing more to make known the literally thousands of human-oriented technological developments that have spun off from the program and which will affect all our lives and the lives of our children and our children's children. There's every reason to believe these spinoffs will become of tremendous value. Already they include lifesaving technologies like the programmable heart pacemaker, the CAT scanner, and lifesaving fireproof vests for firemen. Space spinoffs have made drinking water safer for communities in developing countries. Technology from the Lunar Rover now makes it possible for paraplegics to drive automobiles, and drive them safely. Our automobile engineers in Detroit are using lightweight, superstrong, plastic-like materials -- outgrowths of space program technology -- to reduce the weight of cars. For consumers that means more miles per gallon. And in the future the space program will be making materials in space, where we can manufacture in 1 month's time lifesaving medicines that it would take 30 years to produce here on Earth. I understand that a project is now being developed to pass on to all Americans specific knowledge of this aspect of the space program. The United States Space Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation, is preparing a series of TV and radio public service statements so that all Americans will be aware of these achievements and how they will benefit all of our lives. I think this is a worthy effort.

Yes, whether it's in the exploration of space or the applications of space research here at home, the future to which you are leading us is bright; the challenge that you're shouldering for all mankind is one that we cannot turn away from. We owe it to our children and their children and generations beyond. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to those who, with all their love and joy and courage, taught us again, just 1 year ago today, that ``mankind's reach must exceed its grasp, or what's a heaven for?''

Thank you all. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House. His remarks were televised via satellite to NASA installations worldwide. James C. Fletcher was the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.