Reagan Picks Shuttle Panel

By David Hoffman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 4, 1986

President Reagan, seeking a "calm and deliberate assessment of the facts" about the space shuttle explosion, appointed a 12-member commission yesterday to take over the investigation from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Former secretary of state William P. Rogers was named chairman, and Neil A. Armstrong, commander of the first manned lunar landing and first man on the moon, is vice chairman. Other members included astronaut Sally K. Ride and test pilot Charles (Chuck) Yeager.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said an outside investigation was ordered to ensure that it would be done by people "with no axe to grind."

The panel, many of whose members have close ties to the space program, was instructed to report in 120 days. Reagan limited its mandate to reporting the cause of the accident and ways to prevent a recurrence, and Speakes said the group will not examine the space program's future.

Acting NASA administrator William Graham said shuttle launches will be suspended until the report is complete.

Speaking to reporters here after the commission was announced, he said that the shuttle is an "operational system" that has "proven itself" in 24 flights and that "the fundamental concept and operation of the system appears to us to be sound" despite the explosion that killed seven astronauts a week ago today.

"We don't look like we're going to have to go back to the design process again and envision reconfiguring the system or making a very major fundamental design change. What we're looking at here is a question of making sure the difficulty that occurred is corrected . . . and will never occur again," he said.

[Tributes to the Challenger astronauts yesterday included a private mass in Concord, N.H., for Christa McAuliffe; a memorial service at the Akron, Ohio, high school where Judith A. Resnik was valedictorian, and an observance in Lake City, S.C., for Ronald E. McNair, according to news services.]

The commission, to which as many as eight others may be named, replaces an interim board created by NASA last week

Rogers said the group will rely on NASA for information but can also seek it elsewhere.

In announcing the panel, Reagan said that "the crew of the Challenger took the risks and paid the ultimate price because they believed in the space program . . . .

"We owe it to them to conduct this investigation so that future space travelers can approach the conquest of space with confidence, and America can go forward with enthusiasm and optimism, which has sparked and marked all of our great undertakings."

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