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The Rogers Commission failed; questions it never asked, answers it didn't listen to.

THE ROGERS COMMISSION FAILED

The praise was nearly unanimous for the commission set up by President Reagan to investigate the Challenger accident. "The Rogers Commission --The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident--has served the country well,' The Washington Post editorialized on June 10, the day after the report's release. "The Rogers Commission and its chairman have performed with unusual thoroughness and speed. Their report is a model of rigor, clarity and fairness,' wrote The New York

Times. William Rogers was "a leader who measured up to the tough job,' trumpeted USA Today.

The report painstakingly documented the immediate cause of the accident--failure of an Oring joint. It concluded that engineers' concerns about the cold weather were not relayed to those who made the final decision to launch because of a failure of communication. With some statements pointedly critical of NASA, the commission assured the public that it had thoroughly examined the blemishes of this long-revered agency. It stated, for example, that there was "a serious flaw in the decision-making process leading up to the launch.'

But the Rogers Commission was also truly "flawed.' The commission's final report absolves high NASA officials of any direct responsibility for the accident. Yet it ignores substantial evidence--some of it presented to the commission privately and some of it at public hearings--that those officials were fully aware of the long history of problems that led to the explosion. The commission left unchallenged statements by NASA officials that were contradictory and often obfuscatory. Indeed, at times the commission seemed to be coaching NASA witnesses on how to deal with tough public questions. On the key question of why the final decision to launch was made, the commission ignored so many suspicious coincidences and left so many questions unanswered that further investigations will undoubtedly be needed.

To the commission's credit, much of the information we now know about the launch and NASA's internal problems came out in the course of commission hearings, though much of it had already appeared in the press through news leaks. But the extent to which the commission avoided drawing obvious conclusions and asking obvious questions suggested by that evidence is remarkable. As James Beggs, the former administrator of NASA said in a recent interview with The Washington Monthly, the commission "looked at it from the bottom up but not from the top down.'

"Not adversarial'

President Reagan's choice to chair the investigative commission was William Rogers, attorney general for President Eisenhower and secretary of state for President Nixon. Although Rogers had been in politics and government for three decades, he was known mostly for his capacity to quietly tolerate being passed over by President Nixon on important foreign policy issues. Rogers is a practicing attorney who one represented Lockheed, the company that coordinates the assembly of the shuttle. "We are not going to conduct this investigation in a manner which would be unfairly critical of NASA,' Rogers said when the commission was announced, "because we think, I certainly think NASA has done an excellent job, and I think the American people do.'

The selection of the commission's other members was equally questionable. Even though the commission was created to investigate NASA, its members were chosen by NASA. Acting administrator William Graham, according to the Orlando Sentinel, nominated commission members, most of whom were accepted by President Reagan. They were worthy choices in that most were familiar with space flight. But one might have wondered how aggressive the commission could be when seven of its 13 members had direct ties to NASA: an astronaut, a former astronaut, a consultant to NASA, a designer of the shuttle engine, the former director of the Pentagon's shuttle program, and an executive of one of the companies that serves as a subcontractor to NASA.

Of course, given the importance of the task at hand, it was entirely possible that this group would actively pursue the truth, regardless of how it might reflect on the space agency. The true test of its success was in how it investigated both the decision to launch the Challenger and the history of problems with the O-rings.

By February 6, the start of the commission's hearings, NASA's own internal investigation had already focused on O-rings as a probable cause of the accident, according to press reports at the time. But in that first hearing, NASA's top officials made no mention of the O-rings as a probable cause of the accident. Acting Administrator William Graham stated simply that "NASA continues to analyze the system design and data, and as we do, you can be certain that NASA will provide you with its complete and total cooperation.' Associate Administrator Jesse Moore-- the man who made the final decision to launch--said that in their search for a cause of the accident, "the status as of today, [is] we have reviewed some data, and our analysis does continue.' He said that prior to the launch, his only specific concern was that low temperatures might affect the water systems on the launch pad, including those that allow technicians to wash out their eyes.

Judson Lovingood, deputy director of the shuttle projects office, told the commission that there had in the past been O-ring anomalies, but they had been "thoroughly worked' and that there had never been a case in which both primary and secondary O-rings had eroded. Arnold Aldrich, the national space transportation system director from Houston, one of the top officials involved in the shuttle, testified that "we had no concern for the performance or safety of the flight articles [orbiters, boosters, main engines, or fuel tanks] at that time, nor do I even at this time.'

The next day, in a closed hearing the transcripts of which recently became public, NASA officials began to discuss their knowledge of the history of O-ring problems. Aldrich, the number-two man on the shuttle launch chain of command, told the commission that O-ring erosion "has been in discussion in the program at least during the last year' and that the worst case of erosion occurred in a cold weather launch a year earlier. On February 9, The New York Times published a story, based in part on a memo I had written seven months earlier, describing the history of O-ring erosion. The memo cited engineers' concerns at NASA headquarters that flight safety was being compromised by potentially catastrophic O-ring in-flight erosion. The Times mentioned several other supporting documents, including NASA analyses of the O-ring charring and engineers' reports stating that the back-up O-ring could not be relied upon. The documents showed the O-ring problems had been discussed at all levels of the agency. As it turned out, these were just the first sheets in a long paper trail of evidence that top NASA officials knew about O-ring problems.

With such news, one might expect the commission to have chastised NASA officials for not describing during the first hearing the seriousness of the past O-ring problems and for not correcting those problems prior to the last shuttle launch. Instead, it seems to have coached them on how to avoid embarrassment when the information became public.

In the February 10 closed meeting, after Jesse Moore had conceded the basic accuracy of the Times story, Rogers appears to have counseled him on how to handle potential tough questions about why the agency didn't correct the O-ring problems if they were aware of them. Rogers said to Moore. "Now, everybody recognizes that you are going to make mistakes in judgment, but at least you have to show that it wasn't done in a careless fashion and that there were meetings and you thought about it and who was there and things of that kind.'

Rogers went on to suggest how Moore might want to answer allegations that the agency was lax in fixing what it had formally acknowledged it to be a serious problem. (In 1982, NASA had reclassified the O-ring seals from "criticality 1R,' which meant there was a backup feature that would protect the shuttle from a failure of the main primary O-ring, to "criticality 1,' which meant the back-up safety feature could not be relied upon to prevent catastrophe.) Rogers said: "We want to be careful that NASA doesn't suggest by [Solid Rocket Booster project director Larry Mulloy's] answer that nothing has changed [after the reclassification]. That would be a devastating comment. I think the answer to that is, "We're not sure yet; that is what we're studying.''

Another commission member, Maj. General Donald Kutyna, said to Michael Weeks, Moore's deputy, "My problem is The New York Times kind of problem. Here it says that Cook says it's going to be catastrophic, and here is another guy who says loss of mission, vehicle, and crew [the formal description of what would happen in the event of O-ring failure]. Somehow we've got to be able to explain in the open session tomorrow why this is different from what you said [that the O-ring problems didn't constitute a serious "safety of flight' issue].'

At another hearing, after being told that Rockwell engineers had opposed the launch, Rogers said, "If Rock well comes up in a public session and says, "We advised NASA not to launch and they went ahead anyway,' then we have a problem.'

Rogers had another problem of his own: The New York Times seemed to know more than his commission did about the history of the O-rings. Using language more apologetic than prosecutorial, Rogers gently encouraged NASA officials to be more forthcoming. "This is not an adversarial procedure. This commission is not in any way adversarial, and we hope that in the future, as much as it is humanly possible, when you think information has been developed that we should know about, that you will volunteer to give us that information.'

Holding their breath

As testimony and press reports increasingly pointed to NASA's early knowledge of the O-ring problems, the commission became less and less protective. On February 11, Commissioner Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology demonstrated the problems with the O-ring by dipping one in ice water and showing it did not retain its resiliency. That dramatic act showed just how serious the O-ring problem was and how obvious it must have been to NASA officials. John Young and other astronauts also began to question NASA's management, attitudes, and actions. On Saturday, February 15, Rogers declared that the launch decision "may have been flawed' and ordered that an internal investigative body set up by NASA be reconstituted so as not to include anyone involved in the launch process.

After months of accumulating evidence--some of it uncovered by the commission--that showed that virtually the entire NASA bureaucracy knew about the O-ring problems, the final report insisted that the top-level officials who launched Challenger "were unaware of the recent history of problems concerning the O-rings and the joint.'

The evidence to the contrary is now abundant. To start, there were the statements of Aldrich and Lovingood in the early hearings, the Times article, and my memo. During the February 11 open hearing, which the report does not even mention, Lawrence Mulloy told the commission that the April 1985 launch had caused erosion in the secondary O-ring, meaning the primary O-ring had failed completely. In addition, O-ring charring was a major agenda item on all Jesse Moore's monthly staff reviews during 1985, according to documents released by NASA. While at NASA headquarters, I worked almost daily with headquarters engineers who worked for Moore and had been deeply involved in review of the O-ring problems during 1984 and 1985. It was one of these engineers who told me in mid-1985 that they "held their breath' with each shuttle launch because of the O-rings, a statement I passed on to the press and the commission. The report also doesn't mention that I told them on March 28 that a top solid rocket engineer had been advised not to list O-ring charring on headquarters meetings as it was considered too sensitive an issue to put in writing. To assume that Moore never knew of the seriousness of O-ring problems means assuming, among other things, that he was oblivious to the activities and concerns of his own engineers.

While the Rogers Commission final report does mention the August 19, 1985 meeting at headquarters on the subject of O-rings, it doesn't mention that, according to testimony in July hearings before the House Science and Technology Committee, Moore's deputy, Michael Weeks, chaired this meeting and that Moore was briefed soon afterwards.

Remarkably, the commission concluded in its final report that "the O-ring erosion history presented to Level I [Jesse Moore] at Nasa Headquarters in August 1985 was sufficiently detailed to require corrective action prior to the next flight.' Yet one chapter earlier, the report said that the top officials in NASA, including "Level I,' didn't know about the O-ring history.

When questioned by the Rogers Commission on February 10 about his knowledge of the O-ring problems, Jesse Moore conceded that he knew earlier flights had shown O-ring erosion, but said he didn't think it was a safety of flight issue. That led Commissioner Sally Ride to ask, "What amount of erosion would have given you a problem to call it a safety of flight issue?' Weeks answered, "Sally, I don't think you should get the idea that we weren't deeply concerned about that first instance of the secondary O-ring erosion.'

Although the commission refers frequently to Flight Readiness Reviews, it doesn't mention that it was normal NASA procedure for James Beggs and Arnold Aldrich--both cleared by the commission of any prior knowledge of serious O-ring problems--to attend Flight Readiness Reviews. These reviews regularly included discussions of the serious O-ring problems.

In addition, the commission ignored the roles of top NASA officials in making three critical decisions about the O-rings. In 1982, NASA upgraded the O-ring classification of seriousness from "criticality 1R' to the highest degree of potential hazard, "criticality 1.' According to commission's report, "Level II' (i.e. Aldrich) agreed to the decision. Then, in August 1985, NASA decided that even though it had acknowledged that an O-ring failure could be catastrophic, the shuttle could "fly as is.' The Rogers Commission report didn't mention that under normal NASA procedure William Lucas, the director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, who was also cleared of any knowledge of O-ring problems, would have played a crucial role in making any such "fly as is' decision. Third, knowledge of the O-ring problems was so widespread and considered so serious that NASA, with the approval of the agency's top officials, had already begun testing an improved joint design. As The New York Times recently reported, the agency had even begun to order 72 new booster rocket casings to accommodate the new joint design that was being tested.

No further questions

The second major failure of the Rogers Commission was not determining why the launch was allowed over the protests of Morton Thiokol, the contractor in charge of the solid rocket booster. In concluded that those who gave final approval to the launch did not know that Morton Thiokol's engineers had recommended the launch be stopped for fear that cold weather would weaken the O-rings. For several reasons, the contention that none of the upper-level officials knew of Thiokol's Monday objections is difficult to believe.

The NASA launch procedure calls for decisions--and objections--to methodically follow a prescribed path up three levels. Stanley Reinartz, as the Marshall Space Flight Center's shuttle projects director, was on Level III. On Monday evening before the launch, he visited a motel room at the Merritt Island Holiday Inn just outside the Kennedy Space Center, in order to tell his superior, William Lucas, that there was going to be a teleconference during which they would prepare to notify Level II--Arnold Aldrich--about Thiokol's concerns. Lucas was the director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and reported directly to Jesse Moore. Also present was Lawrence Mulloy, the solid rocket booster chief, and James Kingsbury, the science and engineering director.

But Reinartz, the story goes, did not inform Lucas of the intention to go to Level II with Thiokol's O-ring objections. He says he just told Lucas that Thiokol had expressed some concern. Lucas said he merely asked to be kept informed. Reinartz says he didn't tell Aldrich or Moore any of this because he viewed Thiokol's expression of concern as a routine matter that had been "resolved.'

By not discussing these concerns with Levels II or I, Reinartz would be going against instructions given by Jesse Moore earlier that afternoon to report back my constraints on the launch. Furthermore, if this was a routine problem, why did he visit the motel? And why did NASA require written approval from Thiokol's headquarters in Utah, an unprecedented procedure? Why did NASA officials put such pressure on Thiokol to consent, with one official uttering the memorable words: "My God, Thiokol, when do you want us to launch, next April?'

It's hard to believe that under those conditions Reinartz, a mid-level manager relatively new on the job, simply didn't think it was important enough to tell his superiors. It's also difficult to believe he would make such a decision on his own. Moreover, for five to six hours the morning of the launch, Reinartz and Lucas worked next to Aldrich and Moore, yet all parties claimed that not a word was spoken of the O-ring controversy that had consumed approximately ten hours of discussion the previous afternoon and night.

Although their description of events is hard to believe, it is also hard to disprove--in part because the commission was so timid in its questioning of witnesses. For example, at one point, Rogers asked Reinartz about the discussions at the hotel room:

Reinartz: "I discussed with them the nature of the telecon, the nature of the concerns raised by Thiokol, and the plans to gather the proper technical support people at Marshall for examination of the data. And I believe that was the essence of the discussion.'

Rogers: "But you didn't recommend that the information be given to Level II or Level I?'

Reinartz: "I don't recall that I raised that issue with Dr. Lucas. I told him what the plans were for proceeding. I don't recall, Mr. Chairman, making any statement regarding that.'

Then, just as Rogers had been getting at an important issue--what Reinartz told his superiors about the raging Thiokol debate--the chairman ended the discussion. No follow-up questions, such as, "Did you tell Lucas that the Thiokol objections were serious enough that the engineers had actually recommended not launching?' or "Did Lucas indicate that he wanted Thiokol to change its mind?'

Sometimes they elicited interesting information, but it was not used to draw any sterner conclusions. For instance, Rogers had scolded Lucas for giving a misleading characterization of what happened at the teleconference. "You're describing the telecon as though it were just sort of one of those ordinary things, and I don't believe that is accurate.' Rogers asked Lucas why he didn't tell his superiors, Aldrich and Moore, and Lucas responded that he thought the issue had been resolved and that he was not part of the formal decision ladder. Rogers then asked a good followup question:

Rogers: "You had occasion, though, to talk to both Mr. Aldrich and Mr. Moore before the launch?'

Lucas: "Yes, sir.'

Rogers: "And whether it was in the line of authority or not, you had ample opportunity to pass on the information that there has been serious concern about the seal, isn't that right?'

Lucas: "Yes sir, I had the opportunity to talk to them.'

Rogers: "Okay. I have no further questions.'

A cover up?

This compilation of contradictions and irregularities in the testimony of NASA officials might, by now, have raised the question in a few readers' minds whether these officials might intentionally have misled the public or the commission.

There is other testimony that reinforces the possibility that there was a cover up. For example, Allan McDonald, the Thiokol engineer who had objected to the take-off for safety reasons, testified that Lawrence Mulloy, the NASA official who aggressively pushed for the launch, had later tried to intimidate him. "Mulloy came into my office and slammed the door,' McDonald said during the May 2 hearing, "and as far I was concerned, was very intimidating to me. He was obviously very disturbed and wanted to know what my motivation was--and I won't use his exact words--for doing what I was doing [cooperating with the commission] . . .. He said . . . "As I understand it, you're giving information to the commission without going through your own management, without going through NASA and what's your motivation for doing that?' And I told him to calm down, that I didn't think I had to get a note from my mother or anyone to give anybody information, and I felt it was appropriate to give them information.'

Commissioner Robert Hotz then asked, "Did you get the feeling that there might be some feeling on the part of the Huntsville [The Marshall Space Flight Center] people that they wanted to control this flow of information to the commission?' McDonald responded: "I got the feeling that was happening.'

Then there is the letter written by a Marshall employee, signed, melodramatically, "Apocalypse.' Such an anonymous letter should be read skeptically, though this one seems to have accurately predicted NASA officials' behavior. The letter's author, who displayed an intimate knowledge of Marshall managerial process and past booster rocket problems, gives a detailed description of a private meeting he claims was called by William Lucas at the Marshall Center, at which plans for a cover-up were laid out: "Under Phase I of the cover-up, information was to [be] withheld as long as possible then fed to the press piecemeal. It was reasoned that the longer the information could be covered up the better, as the course of world events would eventually tend to dilute the initial shock and public reactions. . . . Once data could no longer be held back, Phase II would be to present as much highly technical data as possible, letting the situation in the general public's mind be diluted by various conflicting theories which were sure to result. Stories were to be planted which would serve to shift the blame away from [Marshall Space Flight Center] to Thiokol and the contractors doing the processing at the Cape.' The closest the Rogers Commission report came to reprimanding NASA for being less than forthcoming was the sheepish acknowledgement that "for the first several days after the accident-- possibly because of the trauma resulting from the accident--NASA appeared to be withholding information about the accident from the public.'

Pressure points

The biggest gap in the commission's report, however, is not its failure to explore whether there was a cover-up, but its failure to explain why there was so much pressure to launch that day. As former administrator James Beggs said, "the launch decision was made in the face of quite a lot of adverse conditions.' In addition to Thiokol's concerns about the O-rings, other contractor engineers had objected that ice on the launch pad was at hazardous levels and that high seas jeopardized recovery of the re-usable solid rocket boosters.

But, as it well known by now, this was not a typical shuttle launch. For the first time in the history of the shuttle, Thiokol had to prove why NASA should not launch, rather than why it should. Thiokol engineer Allan McDonald, one of several witnesses who noted the difference in tone and behavior of NASA officials, recalled, "I've been in many Flight Readiness Reviews, and I've had a very critical audience . . . justifying why our hardware was ready to fly . . .. I was surprised that the tone of the [pre-launch] meeting was just the opposite of that. I didn't have to prove I was ready to fly. . . . In this case, we had to prove it wasn't ready, and that's a big difference.'

NASA was usually extremely cautious about making decisions without examining previous experiences with similar actions. Yet on January 27, NASA hammered Thiokol for suggesting that NASA stay within past experience for O-ring temperatures. They had never before launched with temperatures below 53 degrees. The O-ring temperature on January 28 was 28 degrees. Before lift-off, Thiokol vice president Joseph Kilminster signed the approval document claiming that a sufficient back-up system existed for the O-rings, even though having previously declared the O-rings "criticality 1' meant there was no reliable back-up. Kilminster signed even though all the Thiokol engineers recommended against the launch. As Thiokol engineer Roger Boisjoly said to the commission on February 14, "There was never one positive, pro-launch statement ever made by anybody.'

Why was the pressure so intense?

At this point it is necessary to look at whether there was pressure arising from the public relations opportunity surrounding Christa McAuliffe and the Teacher-in-Space program. There has been widely reported speculation that a White House official, allegedly Chief of Staff Donald Regan, gave orders for Challenger to lift off, saying, "Tell them to get that thing up!' That report was angrily denied by Press Secretary Larry Speakes and has never been proven.

But even without a direct order, the timing of the State of the Union address created pressure, either from the White House or within NASA, to launch quickly. NASA has always been public relations conscious, and the Teacher- and Journalist-in-Space programs provided the most recent opportunities to rally public support around the programs. At the same time, NASA was becoming increasingly sensitive to media criticism of past launch cancellations and the suggestion that NASA could no longer perform well. In an interview with The Washington Post after the launch, Kennedy Space Center Director Richard Smith indicated that pressure from the news media had a powerful influence on the atmosphere in which its launch decisions were made.

The Teacher-in-Space flight was originally scheduled to end by Tuesday, January 28, the day of the State of the Union address. A one-day delay was introduced in December, which would have meant the flight would still be in orbit when the speech was given. Because of several subsequent delays, Challenger did not launch until the day of the State of the Union address.

It is fairly well-known by now that NASA submitted flowery language about the Reagan Teacher-in-Space program for use in the State of the Union address, but it's worth rereading to see just how wonderful a public relations opportunity they saw in that Challenger flight:

"Tonight while I am speaking to you, a young secondary school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, is taking us all on the ultimate field trip, as she orbits the earth as the first citizenpassenger on the space shuttle.

"Christa McAuliffe'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 the 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.'

The White House, including Speakes and Patrick Buchanan, the communications director who prepared the speech, said this submission was "filed and forgotten,' and that the State of the Union address contained no reference at all to the teacher in space. That is hard to believe. Is it really likely, given the White House's personal involvement in the Teacher-in-Space program, that President Reagan was not even going to mention that Christa McAuliffe was orbiting in space as he stood before Congress? Shouldn't the Rogers Commission at least have interviewed Patrick Buchanan about the speech and requested a copy of the different speech drafts?

There is another detail that has not been discussed in the press so far and was barely addressed at all by the Rogers Commission: the peculiar cancelation of the scheduled Challenger launch the preceding Sunday. Here again NASA followed a procedure unprecedented in its history. Because the weather at Cape Canaveral is notoriously unpredictable, astronauts will board the shuttle even when bad weather is forecast in case the weather changes. But in this case NASA officials canceled the flight Saturday night because bad weather was predicted for the next day. The astronauts never boarded. As it turned out, at launch time, Sunday, it was sunny and warm, so warm that the O-rings probably would not have leaked had the launch occurred that day.

Why then was the launch canceled that Saturday night instead of Sunday at launch time? One possible explanation might relate to a technical requirement that the commission did not discuss. Because loading and unloading fuel creates extreme shifts of temperature in the lines to the fuel tanks, thereby putting tremendous stress on the insulation, NASA has a requirement that fuel may not be loaded and unloaded more than twice in a 48 hour period. If they had fueled up on Sunday, instructed the astronauts to board, and then canceled, they could then try again Monday. But if that failed they couldn't try again until Wednesday. So, by canceling the launch on Saturday before they had fueled up, they increased the chances that the shuttle would be in the air by Tuesday night, when Reagan delivered the state of the union address.

Rep. Don Fuqua, the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, who was at the Kennedy Space Center Saturday night, said the desire to get the shuttle up before Wednesday was a factor in canceling Saturday night instead of Sunday morning, but he said that was because another delay might affect the flight schedule of the Galileo, the Jupiter probe scheduled to be launnched on the Challenger in May. But the Galileo explanation rings hollow, because NASA officials testified that there was a two week buffer period before shuttle delays would start affecting Galileo's schedule.

This may seem somewhat speculative, but the questions raised are certainly ones the commission should have asked and attempted to answer. The decision to cancel was so out of the ordinary that even former administrator Beggs thinks the commission should have asked about it. "That was a bad decision,' says Beggs of the Saturday night decision. "The commission ignored or did not wish to address why did they launch [Tuesday] and why didn't they launch when the weather was good.'

One person the commission should have called to testify about the Saturday night cancellation is William Graham, then acting administrator of NASA. Not much attention has been given Graham because he was not involved in the normal decision loop for flights and had become acting administrator only one and a half months earlier. Graham, who has since been confirmed as the president's science adviser, had come to NASA to help supervise the agency's involvement in the Star Wars program. Beggs strenuously opposed Graham's appointment because he had no prior space program experience. Although it seems probable that Graham did not know of Thiokol's objections on Monday night, his involvement in the decision to launch may have been critical, for if there was political pressure from the White House, it probably came through Graham.

Rep. Fuqua said in a recent interview that on Sunday, January 26, Graham told him that he took direct responsibility for the unprecedented weather-related Saturday night cancellation, somewhat unusual given his previous lack of involvement in launch decisions. In addition, when Graham sent Rep. Ed Markey records of his phone conversations prior to the Tuesday launch he excluded any calls he had made during that weekend. There were likely to have been some White House calls since Vice President Bush was scheduled to attend the Sunday launch. The phone records released did include two calls to White House personnel, one to Richard Davis, the NASA liaison, and one to Alfred Kingon, the cabinet secretary. Why weren't Davis or Kingon interviewed or called to testify about the calls?

In fact, the most striking aspect of the Rogers Commission's investigation into the possibility of White House pressure is that they never interviewed anyone from the White House. Instead, they contented themselves with asking NASA officials whether they had felt any pressure.

The Rogers Commission, then, failed on three major counts. First, it didn't hold NASA's top officials responsible for not acting to guarantee flight safety when they knew about the long history of O-ring problems. Second, it never determined who was really responsible for the decision to override Morton Thiokol's objections to the launch. Third, and most important, it failed to answer the question--in many ways it failed to even ask the question--of why NASA officials behaved so differently regarding that launch. What possible pressures were acting upon them to cause them to send up a space shuttle that they knew could explode? Unfortunately, the Rogers Commission has not done its job. It's time that Congress did.
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Title Annotation:Challenger accident
Author:Cook, Richard
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 1986
Words:5488
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