Just before noon, eastern time, on January 28, 1986, on a subfreezing day on Merritt Island, Florida, the space shuttle Challenger exploded in a cloudless sky 73 seconds after take-off. None of the seven crew members survived.
That night, a visibly shaken President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation and the world with a speech now considered among the greatest in American history. This is how he concluded:
“There’s a coincidence today. On this day three hundred and ninety years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard his 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….We shall never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they…waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”
We will forever remember the Challenger crew and other courageous pioneers who were also determined, as was Tennyson’s Ulysses, ”To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” until, in Reagan’s words, they “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”