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Shuttle Manufacturers Begin Internal Probes

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By Michael Schrage
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 29, 1986

Officials of the companies that built the space shuttle Challenger said yesterday they would begin internal investigations to determine to what extent -- if any -- their components might have contributed to the craft's explosion.

Rockwell International Corp., the program's prime contractor and builder of all five shuttles, Martin Marietta Corp. and Morton-Thiokol Inc. -- the two other key contractors for the Challenger's launch systems -- limited their official comment to expressions of condolence for the families of the Challenger's crew. All inquiries about the shuttle were referred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Several company officials confirmed that they would instruct engineers to cooperate with the NASA investigation as well as pull together technical data needed to analyze the events leading up to the disaster.

The explosion dealt a major blow to the aerospace industry's plans for a "commercial space" marketplace, where the shuttle is expected to be used as a bridge to space manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, semiconductor chip fabrication, new materials and other for-profit endeavors.

In addition, insurance companies that had considered underwriting commercial space ventures are likely to be further discouraged from participating.

On Wall Street, as the stock market rallied overall, the stocks of the shuttle companies were losers.

Morton-Thiokol of Chicago lost the most ground. At one point, the company had to stop trading its stock because there were too many sellers. It finished the day down $4.375 a share to $32.50.

Rockwell, of Pittsburgh, dropped 87 1/2 cents to $34.375, and Bethesda-based Martin Marietta was down $1.1125 to $33.50.

Lockheed Corp., which handles ground servicing for the shuttle at Cape Canaveral, where the Challenger was launched, saw its stock drop $1 to $45.75.

In a statement, Rockwell Chairman Robert Anderson said, "We at Rockwell were shocked by the catastrophe that occurred this morning. On behalf of the company and our subcontractors and the thousands of people who helped to build the space shuttle, I want to extend our deep sorrow and condolence to families of the Challenger crew.

"Our engineers and scientists are making every effort working with NASA to find the cause of this tragedy."

Rockwell is, by far, the shuttle's largest contractor. The company's Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park, Calif., manufactures the space shuttle's powerful main engines. In addition to managing the shuttle's support operations at Houston's Johnson Space Center, the company's Space Transportation Systems Division makes the space shuttle "orbiter."


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© 1986 The Washington Post Company

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