The explosion that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger has delayed indefinitely plans to send a journalist into space and will likely force a reevaluation of the program sending ordinary citizens on the shuttle, officials of the space flight participant program said Thursday.
A journalist was to have flown into orbit Sept. 27 on the same shuttle, Challenger, that was obliterated in the mysterious explosion Tuesday soon after liftoff. Challenger pilot Michael J. Smith, one of the seven crewmen apparently lost in the explosion, was to have flown that September mission.
"We don't have a clear understanding yet of what NASA is intending, but we thought it was not appropriate to start the selection process until things become more clear," said Robert Hoskins, president of the Assn. of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, coordinator of the journalist-in-space project.
Sees Reevaluation Ahead
The process of screening the 1,703 applicants was to have begun next week.
Alan Ladwig, manager of NASA's Space Flight Participant program, said the space agency "probably will have to reevaluate the program" of sending ordinary civilians into space, generally because of questions about it raised since the disaster Tuesday.
One of the seven crew members lost was Concord, N.H., high school teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first ordinary civilian to fly under the program. A journalist was to have been second.
Ladwig emphasized, however, that "space belongs to everybody, so why shouldn't a citizen be allowed to go?"
Jack Bass, spokesman for the journalist-in-space program, said that no one has withdrawn application since the accident, and that 20 applicants have called to reaffirm their interest.
Selection Process Delayed
The applicant pool was to have been narrowed to 100 candidates in February, to 40 in March and to five in April. NASA planned to bring those five to Houston for tests, briefings and interviews in April, and to select one journalist and an alternate on April 17.
A broad cross section of journalists applied--from science writers to talk show hosts, cartoonists, a music editor and a network anchorman. Among them are 42 network personalities, including veteran space reporter Walter Cronkite, NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and ABC reporter Sam Donaldson.