Dr. Jodie Nicotra
September 19, 2011
Reagan’s Challenger Disaster Speech Appealed to American Values
The Cold War between the United States and Russia lasted for nearly 50 years. Throughout the war, the United States worked to maintain an international profile of superiority and power. No image demonstrated this more than that of rockets launching into space. The space race between the United States and Russia was more than just a show of strength, it served as a way for each country to show the other how quickly their technology was progressing. This may not seem important now, but at the time both countries were conducting top-secret nuclear research and while they did not want to publicly reveal their progress, they did want to project the message to the world that—whatever progress they had made—it was better and farther along than the progress of their enemies. NASA’s space program became the United State’s poster-child of our technological achievement and, as such, it also became a tool of international intimidation and of national defense. When the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded over Cape Canaveral in 1986, it was like a giant sign flashing overhead that the US was not as capable and powerful as previous thought. President Ronald Reagan acted quickly in speaking to the country about the tragedy, but his aim was not simply to reassure the public that everything was okay. In his Challenger speech, President Reagan persuaded the American public to continue to support the space program through his appeal to traditional American values of exploration and discovery, national pride, and national unity.
The Challenger Disaster was without question a tragedy. Reagan acknowledged this but in his speech he declared that risk (and by insinuation, the tragedy that can come out of that risk) was a necessary evil to further exploration and discovery. He starts the fifth paragraph by talking to the schoolchildren of America, yet...