Shuttle Panel Submits 250-Page Report

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan gets a first look this weekend at a 250-page report on the Challenger accident that is the product of months of investigation by the blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State William P. Rogers.

The report will be made public Monday, capping four months of unsettling disclosures about the flawed design and flawed decision-making process that led to the fateful launch of the space shuttle Challenger last January.

The report was delivered to the White House late Friday afternoon and aides said it would be sent to Camp David, Md., for Reagan to study over the weekend.

Will Thank Members


Reagan, who will thank commission members for their work in a Rose Garden ceremony Monday, will “reaffirm his dedication to space exploration,” an Administration official said.

A commission source described the last 120 days as “intense, sometimes grim, sometimes bewildering” but said there was “never any thought given to clipping the wings of the space program.”

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said there is a consensus within the Administration to build a fourth orbiter to replace the Challenger but that officials are still grappling with how to fund the expensive vehicle and what balance to strike between use of shuttles and expendable launchers. A formal decision is expected in the next week or so.

Thorough Examination


Another top official said the delay stems from White House concern that any decision affecting the space program be thoroughly examined. “Irrespective of the decision we make, we want to be in the strongest possible position to say we asked the hard questions,” this official said.

The fourth orbiter has been considered since February by a special interagency task force headed by National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter.

Despite some last-minute contentiousness among the 13 commission members, the signatures of all will appear on the report. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman asked to have his name removed after Rogers objected to a section that he believed was written too emotionally. But a compromise was worked out by another commission member, Maj. Gen. Donald J. Kutyna, who had struck up a close friendship with the outspoken Feynman during the lengthy investigation.

Part of Appendix


A commission source said the section drafted by Feynman will appear as part of the report’s appendix, which will include several thousands of pages of detailed information and will not be published for about a month.

Former test pilot Charles E. (Chuck) Yeager attended only one closed session of the commission, but his name will appear prominently along with the other members, who represented a broad cross section of the space and scientific communities.

The commission source said the report is not intended to indict the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, although it will recommend a major overhaul of the way the agency operates.

“Commission members recognize clearly that NASA is the American space program,” this source said. “Once they (the commission members) all go back to their lives, the space program will be in the hands of NASA, and they need to have the support of the people to do their job.”


Times staff writer Maura Dolan contributed to this story.