Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Speech: Rhetorical Analysis

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8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2022

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Words: 1551|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2022

Rhetorical Analysis Of Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Speech
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The essay analyzes Ronald Reagan's Challenger speech, which he delivered in response to the 1986 Challenger disaster, one of the most tragic events in American history. The disaster involved the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, resulting in the loss of all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher set to be the first civilian in space. President Reagan's speech is examined as a powerful example of rhetorical strategy, using language to console and inspire the American people.

The essay underscores the context of the speech, highlighting how the Challenger disaster was broadcast across the nation, creating a crisis that demanded the president's immediate attention. Instead of delivering the scheduled State of the Union address, Reagan addressed the tragedy, seeking to help the nation recover from the loss, eulogize the astronauts, and instill hope in the American people.

The essay breaks down Reagan's speech by analyzing his delivery, the impactful diction he employs, and his appeals to pathos. It notes that Reagan's solemn tone and emotionally charged delivery effectively convey his grief and empathy. His powerful diction and quotes resonate with the audience, evoking strong emotions. Moreover, Reagan's appeals to pathos aim to unify the nation and assure them that, despite the setback, the space program would persist.

The following rhetorical analysis essay examines Ronald Reagan's Challenger speech, one of the most significant speeches in American history. The 1986 Challenger disaster was a tragic event that affected many people across the country. On that fateful day, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members on board. Among them was Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was set to be the first civilian in space. The disaster shook the nation to its core, and President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech to help comfort the American people. His speech was a powerful example of rhetorical strategy, using language to both console the nation and inspire them to continue their pursuit of space exploration.

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Everyone in America watched as the 25th shuttle mission took off with what seemed to be no issue, and they listened to the commentary. It seemed to be a perfectly normal mission. Then, after only one minute and 12 seconds, the space shuttle exploded into a puff of smoke. All that was left to everyone watching were two rocket boosters smoking from a giant cloud that had been the Challenger.

This whole ordeal was seen by everyone in America and created a crisis that needed to be addressed by the president. At the time Ronald Reagan was the president and weirdly enough the day of the Challenger disaster was the same day the State of the Union was supposed to be delivered. Instead of having the state of the union, Ronald Reagan addressed the crisis at hand, which was created by the tragic space shuttle crash. The “Challenger” Tragedy Address was an attempt to help a Nation come back from a terrible tragedy. The seven men and women were applauded and kept hope up in the American people. This was shown in the claims of Reagan: that the Challenger men and women were wonderful people and deserve to be remembered, that we will forge on, and that the space program will not end with this disaster. This is shown through Ronald Reagan’s delivery, use of diction, and appeals to pathos.

The main goal of the address was to help America begin to recover from the loss of the men and women on the shuttle and the loss of the challenger, to eulogize the seven men and women killed in the crash, and to keep the hope up in the American people. Reagan begins his speech by saying “Today is a day for mourning and remembering… we are pained to the core by the tragedy.” At other points in the speech, he talks about the “national loss.” By addressing it, and saying that he, himself, is hurt by it, he allows America to know just how much this impacted his life. A little farther into his address, he takes time to talk about the schoolchildren who had watched the disaster, live. To explain to them that “it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things happen.” The explanation is a lot like how a parent would explain to a child about the loss. He ends this part of the address by saying, “The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.” He addresses the other men and women of NASA, and tells them he wishes he “could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA, or who works on this mission, and tell them… ‘We know of your anguish. We share it.’” By reiterating how much this crash impacted everyone, himself, most importantly those too young to understand it, and to the people who personally connected to it or to the people on the shuttle. Reagan shows the people of American, that this affected everyone, even him. He then personally brings his wife Nancy into his speech, he says they are “pained to the core.” This personal connection further demonstrates the impact on himself and his family. When Reagan talks about the magnitude of the crisis, and how many people were affected, he gives the framework to recovery. He continues to talk about the losses faced by the nation and also addresses how America will “continue to follow [the Challenger astronauts] into the future,” demonstrating to Americans that we will move into the future after this disaster.

He now begins to acknowledge the loss of the seven astronauts that died. He describes the character they had: “[they] were pioneers… They had that special spirit that says give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy… The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives.” He praises them repeatedly, their characters, their actions, and their bravery to increase how much of a loss their deaths were to every one of America. He talks to the families of the fallen seven astronauts, and tells them how great of a loss this was for the whole country, noting: “we cannot bear… the full impact… but we’re thinking of you so much,” giving his condolences for how wonderful all the people were. All the mentions of loss in the address help to set the foundation to eulogize the men and women. Reagan cannot say anything to bring back their lives, but he can and does try and prove what a loss their deaths were.

The final goal of the speech is to bring back hope to the American people. Reagan does this as he reassures everyone that “we’ve only just begun.” He says “nothing that happened today does anything to diminish [the space program].” Ending this portion of his speech saying “we’ll continue our quest into space… There will be more… Nothing ends here: our hopes and our journeys continue.” He continues to talk about the fears in the part of the speech pointed toward the schoolchildren.

Reagan uses many techniques to reach his goals of the nation’s recovery, to show his sadness for those who lost their lives and to reiterate new hope in the people of American. His delivery strongly shows his feelings. His tone during the whole address is solemn and mournful, to reflect on the losses. He has a more quiet delivery to pay respect to the lives of the victims of the Challenger. With the way Reagan is giving this speech, it is very similar to George Bush’s address to the nation during the tragedy of 9/11. However, it is important to know that Reagan is talking about a national tragedy, allowing him to be more emotionally raw with his speech, as opposed to Bush, who is addressing a national attack and could not be as emotionally raw as Reagan. The way they are both deliveries are based on the problems they are dealing with.

Reagan’s speech is effective due to the powerful diction he uses.this speech really reaches out and touches the hearts of all American people. At the end of the speech, he says “we will never forget them… as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’” his speech is full of other impactful quotes and powerful diction. This expresses fully the emotion of the speech.

One other aspect of this address is Reagan’s appeals to pathos. He is clearly dealing with a very emotional situation. The best way for Reagan to achieve his goals of calming the people of America and showing that they will move forward and instill in America unity and a feeling of release, as the issue is over and has been addressed. He has many emotional appeals in his speech, mainly through his strong wording and playing off of all different groups of people in his address to make his point.

He continues to claims that the Challenger men and women were amazing people and deserve to be remembered, and that we will forge on. The space program will not end with this disaster, it will continue and they will prevail this is not the end of space exploration. He proves each and every one of these points in his speech. Through his speech process to the families of the astronauts in the Challenger mission, he shows the character of those men and women, and by talk about them, it proves how wonderful these people were and that they deserve to be remembered. He brings hope to the American people for the future and proves to them that, although it is a setback, it is just the beginning, not the end, and we will continue to move forward. By talking about what we will still do to further space exploration, he shows that the space program will not end with this disaster. Reagan’s speech reaches all of these goals and strengthens all of his claims.

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Reagan’s delivery, use of diction, and appeals to pathos to help attempt a nation to recover, honor all seven men and women, and give new hope to the American people. He proves that the Challenger men and women were wonderful people and deserve to be remembered and honored, that we will go forward, and that the space program will not stop with this tragedy. Reagan’s address, delivered at the correct time and place addresses all that it is supposed to do and effectively talks about everything that the president of a nation in mourning needed to address.

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Rhetorical Analysis Of Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Speech. (2023, February 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from
“Rhetorical Analysis Of Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Speech.” GradesFixer, 28 Feb. 2023,
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