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‘A Great Road Map to Get Started With’ : Shuttle Chief Approves of Rogers Commission Reforms

Times Staff Writer

The chief of NASA’s embattled shuttle program said Wednesday that he agrees with the sweeping recommendations laid down earlier this week at the end of a four-month investigation of the Challenger tragedy.

“As far as I am concerned, this is a great road map to get started with, and I am in agreement with it,” Rear Adm. Richard H. Truly told the House Science and Technology Committee.

In a daylong appearance before the House panel on the second day of extensive hearings on the Challenger accident, Truly gave the space agency’s most detailed response to a call for major management reforms and sharpened attention to safety at the space agency.

Stops Short of Pledge

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But, like his boss, NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher, Truly stopped short of a pledge to carry out all of the recommendations issued Monday by the presidential commission led by former Secretary of State William P. Rogers.

In several cases, Truly emphasized, the commission had left choices entirely up to NASA, merely recommending that steps be studied or considered, without directing that NASA take them.

Included in that category is the much-debated issue of whether NASA will have to build an expensive new complex to test-fire the shuttle’s solid rocket booster in a vertical position before the redesigned rocket is used to launch an astronaut crew.

Although a majority of the Rogers commission favored such a test, the panel recommended only that it be given serious consideration. NASA is hesitant to accept the recommendation because it would add at least several more months to the space program’s delay.

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Truly agreed Wednesday with the Rogers commission’s findings that NASA has suffered a serious breakdown in its internal communications. And, in a step toward compliance with commission recommendations, he named astronaut Robert L. Crippen, a veteran of four shuttle flights, to undertake a review of shuttle program management.

Didn’t Know of Erosion

In response to questions from the committee, Truly, the pilot of the second space shuttle flight, acknowledged that he had not known until after the Challenger disaster that his own flight had experienced erosion of the rocket booster’s seal.

Had top NASA officials fully understood the deficiencies in the design, he said, the booster would never have been permitted to fly.

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The follow-up congressional probe of the accident will go on into next week, but emphasis is expected to shift quickly to other issues, once the Reagan Administration makes known its decision on whether to replace the Challenger, which would cost up to $3 billion, and make major safety modifications to the three orbiters now in the fleet.

At his news conference Wednesday night, President Reagan said there still has been no decision on the funding of a fourth orbiter and the question of increasing the use of unmanned launch vehicles.

“Believe me,” he said, “I want to go forward--I believe we all do--with the shuttle program.”

Rejects Criminal Intent

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Moreover, Reagan agreed with Rogers on the issue of possible prosecution of officials responsible for launching the shuttle in the face of warnings from engineers concerned about the freezing temperatures in the hours before launch.

“I don’t believe there was any deliberate, criminal intent in any way on the part of anyone,” he said. “I think with the great record of success NASA has had, going all the way back to when men circled the Earth in those capsules, and to men on the moon, and now 24 successful shuttle flights, I think there was a complacency.”

The tragedy, he said, came “out of carelessness that grew out of success.” The President said he had wondered “if it wasn’t due to the balmy climate of Florida; it was difficult for anyone to believe that they had a cold snap that (could affect) that O-ring.”

Earlier in the day, appearing before participants in the young astronauts’ program at the National Air and Space Museum, Reagan renewed his pledge to see the space program carry on. “We will make the necessary changes and improvements, and NASA will continue to be in the vanguard as America fulfills its destiny in space,” he said.

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Review of Components

In addition to Crippen’s review of shuttle program management, Truly told the House panel that NASA is undertaking a review of design requirements for components of the shuttle system and will make sure that they are properly tested and certified.

In Houston on Wednesday, former shuttle program chief Jesse W. Moore, who now is director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in an interview that he was surprised at some of the presidential commission’s criticisms of NASA communications but added that he is “very supportive” of the panel’s report.


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