Morton Thiokol Demotes Some Who Approved Shuttle Launch

Times Staff Writer

Demotions and reassignments were disclosed Wednesday affecting the Morton Thiokol Inc. executives who approved launch of the space shuttle Challenger over the safety concerns of their engineering staff.

At corporate headquarters here, a Morton Thiokol spokesman said the reorganization was “designed to deal with the crisis” caused by the shuttle’s crash Jan. 28.

Edward G. Dorsey Jr., 62, who was called out of a two-year retirement, will take over the company’s Utah-based space division as vice president and general manager, replacing Calvin Wiggins, who was demoted to deputy.


First to Run Program

Dorsey, a 25-year Morton Thiokol veteran who ran the company’s shuttle rocket program when it began, also will take over management responsibility for the engineers assigned to the booster rocket program--authority previously held by Jerry Mason, senior vice president of Wasatch Operations, and by Robert Lund, vice president of engineering.

It was Wiggins, Mason and Lund--along with vice president Joe Kilminster--who overruled the safety warnings raised by rocket engineers the night before Challenger was launched.

In a heated meeting at the Utah rocket plant on the eve of launching, the engineers had recommended delaying Challenger’s scheduled morning liftoff on Jan. 28 because they feared that subfreezing temperatures the night before could damage rubber seals on the giant booster rockets. Investigators now believe one of the seals failed.

According to subsequent testimony before the presidential commission investigating the shuttle accident, Mason advised Lund and the others to “take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat” after listening to nearly an hour of arguments from a dozen engineers.

Allan J. McDonald, the company’s representative at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, refused to sign the official launch authorization, forcing Kilminster to do so. Kilminster is the only one of the four vice presidents from that meeting who retains the same responsibilities after the reorganization. He will now report to Dorsey instead of Wiggins.

‘Great Deal of Confidence’

“The people in Wasatch, the engineers, have a great deal of confidence in Ed Dorsey,” Thomas Russell, vice president for corporate development and strategic planning in Chicago, said.


He called Dorsey “an independent party” who was not involved in the Challenger launch decision.