Statement on the 25th Anniversary of the Challenger Tragedy
As we reflect back upon the tragic loss of Challenger and her brave crew of heroes who were aboard that fateful day, I am reminded that they truly represented the best of us, as they climbed aloft on a plume of propellant gasses, reaching for the stars, to inspire us who were Earthbound. They represented the inspiration that is uniquely Space, and planned to share their experiences with the classrooms of future explorers who might one day follow their path and, perhaps, reach higher still -- because of this great mission. A mission so tragically ended was, in a moment, etched forever in our hearts, and memories...
As we grieved at this great loss, President Reagan recited lines from another American hero -- John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s memorable poem -- "High Flight", and reminded a grieving nation -- "they slipped the surly bounds of Earth" to "touch the face of God" -- words that inspired us, describing for us in poetry their great sacrifice, and their noble cause.
I am also reminded of three friends and heroes that we lost in the Apollo-1 fire -- particularly my friend, Ed White, fellow West Pointer, Track Team and Squadron-mate, as we boldly made our way to the Moon -- a journey we would complete in their honor with my colleagues, Neil and Mike, aboard Apollo 11 just two-and-a-half years after that tragic day; and, I think of the brave scientists and explorers of the Columbia tragedy, just eight years ago. They, too, are with us as we turn our attention to science that will one-day help make possible human exploration beyond the constraints of our precious Earth-Moon system -- when the inevitable journey of humankind to the surface of Mars, and into the Cosmos will, indeed, begin in earnest.
These were the tragic beginnings along this path, and we can never forget their passion for Space, their commitment and selfless dedication to it, the joy they experienced in the pursuit of it, and their heroic sacrifice, which took them from us.
It is for us to honor these great pioneers who were paving the way for our future, by continuing this great quest, that their hopes and dreams may be realized by those who were so inspired by their example. In the present uncertainties of the space program, a great transitional opportunity exists, and we must rise to the challenge in the spirit of those who have so bravely shown the way forward, and for those who will follow. A great nation deserves no less, and their memories compel us to continue their journey.
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