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NASA Suggested Reagan Hail Challenger Mission In State of Union

March 13, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly three weeks before the space shuttle Challenger disaster, NASA proposed that President Reagan hail its mission in his State of the Union address as ″the ultimate field trip″ of an American schoolteacher.

The White House said Wednesday that NASA’s proposal was ″filed and forgotten″ and never included in any draft of the speech.

The White House, trying to counter suggestions that NASA was under administration pressure to launch Challenger on time, released texts of NASA’s proposed comments for the president, and the draft of the speech Reagan was to have delivered the night the shuttle was launched.

Reagan said Wednesday in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that White House had never pressured NASA to push ahead with any specific shuttle launch.

″We have never from here suggested or pushed them for a launch of the shuttle ...I would feel that I was way out of my depth in trying to do that. I am not a scientist and they are,″ he said.

″We have never done anything except to approve their schedule,″ Reagan was quoted as saying in an article in the paper’s Thursday editions.

After the Challenger exploded Jan. 28, Reagan delayed his speech a week and made a revision in what he had planned to say about the Challenger mission, according to the White House documents.

In remarks proposed by NASA on Jan. 8 for Reagan’s speech, the space agency suggested that Reagan say:

″Tonight, while I’m speaking to you, a young elementary school teacher from Concord, N.H., is taking us all on the ultimate field trip as she orbits the Earth as the first citizen-passenger on the space shuttle.

″Christa McAliffe’s journey is a prelude to the journeys of other Americans and our friends around the world who will be living and working together in a permanently manned space station in the mid-1990s, bringing a rich return of scientific, technical and economic benefits to mankind. Mrs. McAuliffe’s week in space is just one of the achievements in space which we have planned for the coming year, however.″

The proposed remarks went on to discuss other NASA projects.

Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said NASA’s draft was ″filed and forgotten.

″Every agency and department sent in drafts (of proposed remarks),″ he said. ″Nobody saw it (NASA’s proposal) except for Kingon’s office.″ Alfred Kingon is secretary to the Cabinet and one of Reagan’s senior aides.

″It was never in any draft, never discussed by anyone involved in the speech,″ Speakes said. ″It never got past Kingon’s office.″

He released a 14-page document entitled ″President’s Backup Copy″ of the State of the Union address, set for delivery Jan. 28. It made only one mention of the shuttle, in the third last paragraph of the speech.

Discussing the American dream, the speech said:

″The dream lives. And as long as it is real, work of noble note will be done. We see the dream coming true in the spirit of discovery of 21-year-old Richard Cavoli. All his life he has followed the path of science and medicine. Today, the science experiment he began in high school was launched on the space shuttle Challenger. Richard, your work could reduce harmful radiation effects of X-rays on patients; it could enable astronomers to view the golden gateways of the farthest stars.″

On Feb. 4, Cavoli was in the audience when Reagan delivered the State of the Union.

″We see the dream coming true in the spirit of discovery of Richard Cavoli - all his life he’s been enthralled by the mysteries of medicine,″ Reagan said. ″And Richard, we know that the experiment that you began in high school was launched and lost last week, yet your dream lives.

″And as long as it’s real, work of noble note will yet be done - work that could reduce the harmful effects of X-rays on patients and enable astronomers to view the golden gateways of the fartherest stars,″ Reagan said.

At the beginning of his speech, the president paid tribute to the seven Americans killed in the Challenger explosion.

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