Sharing a nation's shock over the explosion of the Challenger, President Reagan has voiced his deep sorrow to the families of those who were aboard the space shuttle. But he also stressed the importance of going forward with space exploration. Because of the tragic event yesterday, the President after consulting with leaders of Congress postponed his State of the Union address until next Tuesday. He also sent Vice-President George Bush to Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center to convey his concern for the families of those aboard the space shuttle.
Mr. Reagan instructed acting NASA director Bill Graham to fly to Cape Canaveral with the Vice President to begin probing the cause of the explosion and and then to proceed with the space program. ``These people were dedicated to the exploration of space,'' the President stated. ``We could do no more to honor them, these courageous Americans, than to go forward with the program.''
The President was having an Oval Office meeting with top aides when he learned that the shuttle had blown up. He stood in ``stunned silence'' as he watched a televised replay of the disaster, said White House spokesman Larry Speakes.
``It's a terrible thing,'' Mr. Reagan told TV reporters. ``I just can't get out of my mind her husband, her chidren, as well as the families of the others on board.''
Asked if he felt special remorse because of his decision to send a teacher into space, Mr. Reagan replied that all those aboard the Challenger were citizens. ``I don't think there's anybody who's been on there who's not a volunteer,'' he commented. ``They were all aware of the dangers and risks.''
Mr. Speakes later said the President had not voiced regret about his proposal to send civilians into space. The President is concerned about all those who as chief exectuive officer he directs to conduct missions, whether for the military or NASA, said Speakes. But ``it's a fact of life when a man sits in the Oval Office, he has to make these decisions,'' he added.
This clearly is an anguishing moment for the President.
But, as he has met adversity in his own life by looking confidently ahead, so he is seeking to focus the nation's vision on the future. When asked what he would tell school children who watched the shuttle flight and were preparing special projects in connection with it, he responded:
``I would tell them you have to be out there on the frontier taking risks.'' He would make it plain to them, he said, that ``life must go on.''
Shortly after the disaster, it appeared the President would proceed with his State of the Union message. He in fact told reporters that, although the tragedy would cast a pall on the congressional event, ``you can't stop governing the nation because of a tragedy.''
Asked why Reagan had changed his mind, Speakes replied that the President felt ``very keenly what the American people must be feeling.''
He consulted with the congressional leadership and ``the concensus opinion of the executive and legislative branch was that it was appropriate to postpone,'' said Speakes.
At press time, the President time was going to address the nation last night about the shuttle tragedy
The President also delayed three days of speechmaking he had planned in connection with the State of the Union address.