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Statement on the Building of a Fourth Shuttle Orbiter and the Future of the Space Program

August 15, 1986

I am announcing today two steps that will ensure America's leadership in space exploration and utilization. First, the United States will, in FY 1987, start building a fourth space shuttle to take the place of Challenger, which was destroyed on January 28th. This decision will bring our shuttle fleet up to strength and enable the United States to safely and energetically project a manned presence in space. Without the fourth orbiter, NASA's capabilities would be severely limited and long-term projects for the development of space would have to be either postponed, or even canceled. A fourth orbiter will enable our shuttles to accomplish the mission for which they were originally intended and permit the United States to move forward with new, exciting endeavors like the building of a permanently manned space station.

My second announcement concerns the fundamental direction of the space program. NASA and our shuttles will continue to lead the way, breaking new ground, pioneering new technology, and pushing back the frontiers. It has been determined, however, that NASA will no longer be in the business of launching private satellites. The private sector, with its ingenuity and cost effectiveness, will be playing an increasingly important role in the American space effort. Free enterprise corporations will become a highly competitive method of launching commercial satellites and doing those things which do not require a manned presence in space. These private firms are essential in clearing away the backlog that has built up during this time when our shuttles are being modified.

We must always set our sights on tomorrow. NASA and our shuttles can't be committing their scarce resources to things which can be done better and cheaper by the private sector. Instead, NASA and the four shuttles should be dedicated to payloads important to national security and foreign policy, and, even more, on exploration, pioneering, and developing new technologies and uses of space. NASA will keep America on the leading edge of change; the private sector will take over from there. Together, they will ensure that our country has a robust, balanced, and safe space program.

It has been over 6 months since the tragic loss of the Challenger and her gallant crew. We have done everything humanly possible to discover the organizational and technical causes of the disaster and to correct the situation. The greatest tribute we can pay to those brave pathfinders who gave their lives on the Challenger is to move forward and rededicate ourselves to America's leadership in space.

Ronald Reagan, Statement on the Building of a Fourth Shuttle Orbiter and the Future of the Space Program Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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