Friday, 28 January 2011

25 years since the Challenger shuttle disaster

25 years ago the space shuttle Challenger exploded just after takeoff. Not only were 7 lives lost, but the confidence of America was shaken in a way that was second only, perhaps, to the events of 9/11.

I was training at theological college at the time, and remember watching the TV with some American friends who were also training. We used to delight in poking fun at President Reagan and his folkesy and sometimes confused style, but on the night of the disaster he made one of the best speeches.

He knew how to communicate in a warm and heartfelt way, which combined gravity with hope. He helped make sense of what had happened, not trying to apportion blame as so quickly happens today, but simply saying that these things happen when people take the risks of exploration.

If ever there was a need for a head of state to sum up the mood of a nation, then this was it. Speaking equally sincerely to the nation as a whole, the families of the crew who died, their NASA colleagues and children who had witnessed the disaster live on TV. I still find the speech very moving, particularly in the way it ends with those famous words about touching the face of God.

Watch the speech here: