Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Disaster Speech Reading and Annotation



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Ms. Kray (Adapted from Mr. Reyes, MHS) APELAC: Rhetorical Analysis

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  • Apply critical thinking skills to identify and define problems

  • gather and analyze information

  • draw and apply conclusions

  • read purposefully

  • write effectively


Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Disaster Speech
Reading and Annotation

Read and annotate Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Disaster speech, paying particular attention to words that evoke strong emotions. Then do the following activities:



  1. Highlight all the first person singular pronouns (“I,” “me,” “my,” “mine”). What noun do these pronouns replace?

  2. Using a different color, highlight all the first person plural pronouns (“we,” “us,” “our,” “ours”). What noun do these pronouns replace?

  3. Using an even different color, highlight all the third person plural pronouns (“they,” “them,” “their,” “theirs”). What noun do these pronouns replace?

President Ronald Reagan Honors the Memory of

the Seven Astronauts Killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion.
1. Officially, it was “Shuttle Mission 51-L,” but every American knew it as “the flight with the teacher” because one of the crew members was a thirty-seven-year-old teacher named Christa McAuliffe. The first civilian to venture into space, McAuliffe had been chosen out of 11,000 volunteers to join six astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger. Promising “the ultimate field trip,” NASA1 heavily promoted the launch, and tens of millions of Americans—many of them schoolchildren—tuned in to witness the historic event live on January 28, 1986. At 11:39 a.m., cheers erupted at Cape Canaveral and at McAuliffe’s school back in Concord, New Hampshire, as the Challenger soared skyward into a picture-perfect, cloudless sky. And then suddenly, inconceivably, the shuttle disappeared into a massive fireball as the two booster rockets sailed on, leaving behind a billowy pitchfork of smoke. Shock immediately turned to grief as the realization sank in: The shuttle had exploded, killing everyone on board. President Reagan was scheduled to give the State of the Union address before Congress that evening, but instead focused solely on the seven crew members who lost their lives—the first American astronauts ever to die in flight.

* * *


2. 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.
3. 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, 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.
4. To 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 members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.
5. 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.
6. 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 and impressed us for decades, and we know of your anguish. We share it.”
7. 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 an 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.
8. 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 their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”2

1 NASA — National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the government agency responsible for space travel and exploration

2 a quotation from the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee
Introduction to President Ronald Reagan’s speech reprinted by permission of Kodansha America, Inc. Challenger speech in the public domain.

Video: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ronaldreaganchallenger.htm



Ethos: the Credibility or Trustworthiness of the Speaker

  1. Look at the sentences with first person singular pronouns. Then complete the following table:

Paragraph



Actions/verbs associated with the “I” or with something that is “mine”

What these actions/verbs tell us about the “I”

Words or phrases that describe the “I” or something that is “mine”

What these words or phrases tell us about the “I”

2


“…planned to speak…”

“…to change those plans”








“pained to the core”




3















4















5















6















7















8


















  1. Look at all the verbs that you listed in the table above. Are they generally active or passive? What is the significance of this?

  2. Complete the following statement, based on the table above:

“President Reagan presents himself as a _______________ person by ___________________________________________________________________.”
Pathos: Appealing to the Audience’s Emotions

  1. Look at the sentences containing first person plural pronouns. Then complete the following table.

Paragraph



Actions/verbs associated with the “we” or with something that is “ours”

What these actions/verbs tell us about the “we”



Words or phrases that describe the “we” or something that is “ours”

What these words or phrases tell us about the “we”



2


“We know we share this pain…”











3















4















5















6















7















8


















  1. Look at all the verbs that you listed in the table above. Are they generally active or passive? What is the significance of this?

  2. Complete the following statement, based on the table above:

“President Reagan evokes a mood of ____________________ for his audience by ___________________________________________________________________.”
Logos: Making an Argument about the Subject

  1. Look at the sentences containing the third person plural pronouns. Then complete the following table:

Paragraph



Actions/verbs associated with the “they” or with something that is “theirs”

What these actions/verbs tell us about the “they”



Words or phrases that describe the “they” or something that is “theirs”

What these words or phrases tell us about the “they”



3



“…were aware of the dangers”

“overcame [the dangers]”

“did their jobs brilliantly”





“their loss” is “mourn[ed] [by a nation]”




4















5















6















7















8


















  1. Look at all the verbs that you listed in the table above. Are they generally active or passive? What is the significance of this?

  2. Complete the following statement, based on the table above:

“President Reagan portrays the astronauts as ____________________ by ___________________________________________________________________.”
Putting It All Together: Writing an Open Response

  1. Referring to #6, #9, and #12, write a thesis statement responding to the following prompt:

“Explain the techniques President Reagan uses in his speech to honor the Challenger astronauts. Support your answer with relevant and specific details from the speech.”

Then, after selecting a few strong details and corresponding insights from the three tables above, respond to the prompt. Use your thesis statement as the first sentence of your response.



Additional Assignments

  1. Rewrite the speech by replacing all first person plural pronouns with first person singular pronouns. How does this change the speech? What does President Reagan gain by using a combination of first person singular and first person plural instead of using the first person singular throughout?

  2. Paying attention to all three appeals, write a speech honoring someone who has recently died. Alternate between first person singular, first person plural, and third person singular pronouns in a purposeful manner.

  3. Paying attention to all three appeals, write a speech honoring the tree in Thomas Hardy’s “Throwing a Tree.” Alternate between first person singular, first person plural, and third person singular pronouns in a purposeful manner.


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