NASA, which has little experience with fatal crashes, sought help yesterday in its probe of the first space shuttle disaster from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates all airline crashes and major disasters on railroads, highways and waterways.
The NASA investigation gathered momentum as the interim board established to begin the investigation of the Challenger explosion had installed most of the many teams necessary to gather and analyze the mission.
There were also reports that more substantial pieces of the Challenger had been found in the Atlantic. That would be a major benefit to any investigation. The safety board is known for its ability to painstakingly reconstruct the events leading up to a transportation disaster and to piece together shards of airline wreckage in ways that often pinpoint causes.
The board sent two of its top administrators to Cape Canaveral yesterday -- Terry Armentrout, head of the board's bureau of accident investigation, and Leslie D. Kampschror, head of its bureau of technology.
"NASA asked us for some help in how to set up an accident investigation, how to protect wreckage, that sort of thing," a board spokesman said. "We sent the people who are in the best position to identify what we can do and how we can help."
The board would say little about the investigation, although one official said that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration begins its investigation with an advantage that the board does not have in plane crashes: There is no need to search for a "black box" of flight data and voice recorders. "In this case, the black box is on the ground," the official said, referring to the vast amount of telemetry data stored in NASA's computers.
Sources said that the two NTSB advisers were sought not only for their knowledge of accident investigation but to increase the credibility of the investigation, which has been conducted so far entirely by the NASA officials who were in charge of the systems that are being investigated.
The interim NASA board yesterday had nearly finished organizing small teams, including groups that will gather photographic evidence, collect and store the debris from the spacecraft, examine all the data sent back from the spacecraft and look at the questions of what might have happened to both computer hardware and software systems.
The interim board is expected to be dissolved within days, leaving in place the investigative organization and plan. The interim board members, or stand-ins for them, are also expected to be part of the more permanent review board, because each of the team members has both knowledge of and responsibility for the key parts of the shuttle system. The permanent board is likely to include members of Congress and outside specialists in engineering and other fields.
Members of the interim board and their areas of expertise are:
*Jesse W. Moore, 46, associate adminstrator for space flight, is in overall charge of the shuttle program. He will coordinate the probe of all the specialty departments, such as engine hardware, vehicle assembly and flight control.
Moore is also director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. He is a professional engineer who joined the NASA program in 1966.
*Richard G. Smith, 56, is director of the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. He will concentrate on the assembly of the Challenger parts and its payload, preparation of the launch pad, direction of fuel loading operations, and the ignition and flight up to the point that the shuttle cleared the launch pad tower.
Smith earned a degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University in 1951 and immediately joined the rocket research and development team at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.
*William R. Lucas, 63, is director of the Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Ala. Lucas oversaw the development and production of the shuttle's main engines, the huge external tank that held their fuel, and the two strap-on solid fuel rockets. This series of components is thought most likely to contain the source of Challenger's failure.
Lucas, trained as a metallurgist and specializing in nose cone development, began his career in 1952 as a member of Wernher von Braun's early team at the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal, which grew into the Marshall Center.
*Arnold D. Aldrich, 49, is space shuttle manager at the Johnson Space Center. He has been in charge of the development of the Challenger orbiter, the training of the crew and the flight controllers, and has overseen the operation of computer software and general flight management.
Aldrich joined the space task force at Langley Field, Va., in 1959. That group was the forerunner of the manned spaceflight center, now in Houston.
*Walter Williams, 66, has been the chief safety officer for the manned flight program since its earliest days. He left the agency some years ago to become a consultant but is still considered the agency's greatest authority on launch safety.
*Robert Overmyer, 49, a Marine colonel and an astronaut who has piloted one shuttle mission and was commander of another, is the investigation team's expert on the people who fly the machines, the astronauts.
*James C. Harrington, 46, is director of NASA's Spacelab program and is acting as recording secretary for the investigators