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NASA submits its 'road map' for getting the shuttle flying.

NASA submits its 'road map' for getting the shuttle flying

Exactly a week after the presidential commission investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster had submitted its detailed findings, President Reagan ordered NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher to report back within a month about what the agency was going to do about it. "Specifically," wrote the President on June 13, the response "should include milestones by which progress in the implementation process can be measured."

The resulting document, said Fletcher this week after delivering it in person, "really is a road map. And you can watch our progress as we follow the milestones in the report."

One of NASA's conclusions, in the course of planning the steps along the way, is that shuttle flights are not likely to resume before at least the first quarter of 1988. This is a half-year later than the agency's previously mentioned goal, but it came as little surprise. Besides the question of how radical a redesign will be required for the shuttle's solid rocket motors (SRMs), one of which suffered a leaking O-ring seal that triggered the explosion, the commission's recommendations included major reworkings of NASA's safety policies and management methods. Even before responding to the commission's report, Fletcher had appointed Sam Phillips, former director of the Apollo moon program, to study "every aspect" of NASA's management. And "General Phillips's job," Fletcher told the press this week, "seems to be getting more complex as we go on."

In laying out the milestones for a return to flight, Fletcher acknowledged that "we're being a little conservative." But he also noted that, at the other extreme, "there were some that wanted to launch right away, but at a higher temperature." (The extreme cold on the morning of the Jan. 28 launching was cited as a factor in the O-ring's failure.)

Former astronaut Richard Truly, now associate administrator of NASA's Office of Space Flight, told the press that "we're in the business of flying in space, not getting ready to fly." But neither he nor anyone else in NASA management wants to be accused this time of too much hurry. Agency officials have repeatedly denied that launch-safety concerns were short-changed due to political or public-relations "pressure to get off the ground." Now, NASA is clearly in the spotlight of people sensitized to any signs of irresponsible haste.

Now that NASA has laid out its envisioned milestones in writing, there could be a host of occasions that might be perceived as "missed dates" on the shuttle's return to orbit. But the plan is in place, and, says Fletcher, "we have a good running start on recovery."
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Author:Eberhart, Jonathan
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 19, 1986
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