Like many, I was reminded of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident on Friday, the 25th anniversary of the event. In 1986, Madonna, Prince and Springsteen LP records were selling big in the AV Department of the Kingsgate Safeway, where I worked. They also had a cassette rack, and I got my dual tape cassette answering machine there. I worked the morning shift, and watched the disaster on the television, live.
Today I happened to read Ronald Reagan’s speech after the fact, which was given in lieu of the scheduled State of the Union address. It is a remarkable piece of American oratory. Reagan had a way about him--he just had an amazing presence. I liked this: “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
I came across Reagan’s speech in a book I purchased at the UW Bookstore, after running my old standard Seattle Arboretum loop in the University of Washington area. This is a loop I used to run nearly every day, rain and shine, when I lived in Seattle, over 12 years ago.
Basically, I start at Roosevelt and 42nd, take a left at Eastlake Romio’s Pizza, run through the neighborhoods to the Arboretum, and then do a big circle in there. After I come out, I find my way over to the Montlake Cut—there’s a trail right on the cut-and then over to the UW and back via the Burke Gillman or through the UW.
I haven’t ran this loop in more than ten years. Running it today was like seeing an old friend. I got a big smile out of rediscovering the old moss-covered footbridge into the Arboretum, a familiar set of stone stairs to a gazebo, and a few of my "secret” cut-through trails. I used to run this loop so hard, checking my watch as I tried to hit certain marks—a half hour to Point A, 45 minutes to Point B, etc. This loop got me ready for my first marathon.
Now I have different loops. Blanchard. Sehome Hill. Nookachamps. But I still do the same things. I have new secret trails, my own sets of stairs and hills, and other various mandatory route-requirements, like summiting the lookout tower on Sehome or being sure to say hi to the cows in the Nookachamps. All personal routines, they ground me. And I still listen to Madonna, Prince and Springsteen, sometimes. But now I have the new Katy Perry.
Here’s Reagan’s speech on the Challenger:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.
Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But, we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.
For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy." They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.
We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the member of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.
And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.
I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute. We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved an impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."
There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, "He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it." Well, today we can say of the challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."