Ronald Reagan's Presidency

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Who was the intended audience of the Ronald Reagan speech on the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy?

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President Reagan was known for being a person with great communication skills. On the night of the Challenger disaster, he spoke to and for the entire country when he expressed the sorrow that he and Mrs. Reagan felt, which reflected how all Americans were feeling that evening. He was trying to bring comfort not only to the families directly impacted by the disaster but also to all Americans who were shaken by the images that they had witnessed that day.

President Reagan also was talking to the people who worked at NASA. He made it clear that our space program would continue to exist and that he appreciated the dedication of those people who worked there. He indicated that despite the tragedy (and previous tragedies), the country would continue to move forward with space exploration.

He also was speaking to children because many of them had watched the disaster unfold on live television. He wanted them to know that sometimes there are failures that have deadly consequences, yet people must continue to move forward with life. He wanted them to pursue their dreams and their goals even though there may be risks involved in achieving them.

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President Reagan crafted the speech to speak to the nation, as a whole, and also tailored specific parts of it to specific demographics of the population that were impacted the most by the tragedy.  President Reagan speaks in broad terms of mourning that were being shared by so many in the nation.  In explaining how the President and the First Lady "share this pain with all of the people of our country," it reflects how the nation's mood of mourning is a general condition.  

Yet, the President speaks directly to individual segments of the population.  One such group is the people who work at NASA when the President says, "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."  The immediate reaction which called for reducing the scope of the space program was headed off with the President's call to them in the speech.  At the same time, the President speaks to the schoolchildren of the nation, many of whom were watching the launch and subsequent horror on live television, by suggesting that "I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen."  Consistent with his status as "The Great Communicator," President Reagan was able to construct a national message of reflective mourning while speaking to specific portions of the population at the same time.

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