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NASA Official Quoted As “Appalled” by Thiokol Reluctance With AM-Shuttle Investigation

February 21, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A NASA official said, ″I am appalled by your recommendation,″ after Morton Thiokol management initially declined to recommend the space agency go ahead with Challenger’s Jan. 28 launch, National Public Radio reported Thursday, quoting sources.

The network identified its sources as ″company engineers,″ and said top NASA and Thiokol officials declined comment. Morton Thiokol is the manufacturer of shuttle booster rockets.

The network said Morton Thiokol vice president Bob Lund made the don’t-launch recommendation at noontime on Jan. 27, and that NASA officials on the other end of a telephone line ″were shocked.″

Science magazine, which published a similar account without naming the individuals involved, quoted an unidentified Morton Thiokol official as saying, ″We were asked to prove that no launch should occur and the data were not black and white.″

NPR said company engineers feared the shuttle’s rocket booster seals - one of which is suspected to have failed prior to the Jan. 28 explosion - would not hold if launch took place in temperatures under 50 degrees.

The ″I am appalled″ observation came from George Hardy, a NASA official at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, NPR said. The Marshall center is in charge of certifying the safety of the shuttle booster rockets.

The presidential commission probing the accident is now centering on the Alabama center and its handling of warnings from Thiokol engineers, according to published reports.

The commission is focusing on top managers at Marshall to determine whether they pressured Morton Thiokol engineers to approve the launch, The New York Times said in Friday’s editions.

″There is a suspicion the smoking gun is at Huntsville,″ one NASA official was quoted as saying in Friday’s editions of The Washington Post.

NPR said Lawrence Mulloy, the head of the rocket booster program at Marshall, argued with Thiokol engineers and challenged their data. When engineers insisted the launch be postponed until temperatures - 38 degrees at launch time - climbed into the 50s, NPR said Mulloy said, ″My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?″

After an 8:30 p.m. telephone conference, Morton Thiokol officials, despite continued opposition from some engineers, did give NASA a recommendation to proceed with launch.

NPR said it was a management decision organized by Morton Thiokol’s Jerry Mason, the senior vice president in charge of the division that makes the rocket boosters.

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