An internal NASA safety review has identified 44 potentially flawed components of the space shuttle -- besides the joints on the solid rocket boosters that caused the Jan. 28 Challenger disaster -- that may have to be fixed before shuttle flights can resume next year, officials said yesterday.
NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher said in an interview that fixing the potentially flawed parts -- which officials said include such items as landing brakes on the shuttle orbiter and the runways at emergency "abort" sites in Africa -- could add as much as $100 million to the $526 million officially projected cost of getting the shuttle ready for flight.
"This is a technical fix, not just of the rocket motor, but of the whole shuttle," Fletcher said of the safety review. "There were some things that were -- I don't want to say marginal -- but which needed fixing and we'll fix those at least. Those are high priority . . . ."
Fletcher also suggested that the redesign or fixing of these parts, as well as the already identified problems with the booster joints, could set back the agency's plans to restart shuttle flights in July 1987.
"There's not going to be pressure on anyone to be hasty," he said. "If there's a delay in the schedule, we'll take that delay . . . . What we're trying to do is get the thing started, so we don't have a delay . . . ."
Fletcher's comments were the strongest acknowledgment by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of large numbers of serious safety problems beyond those that have been linked to the shuttle explosion in which the crew of seven was killed.
Investigations by NASA and the presidential commission chaired by former secretary of state William P. Rogers have identified design flaws in the shuttle's booster rocket joints, combined with the impact of cold weather on the joint's O-ring seals, as the cause of the accident that destroyed the shuttle over the Atlantic.
Fletcher also said NASA was seriously considering modifying the shuttle orbiter to include an escape mechanism that would allow astronauts to bail out in an emergency. Fletcher said this would require a redesign of the orbiter cabin, but added that it may not be feasible because it is a "tough business to come up with an escape system that is really reliable."
Last March, NASA officials said they were "re-reviewing" a list of 740 "critical items" on the shuttle to see whether they should be modified or redesigned. Critical items are defined as parts for which there are no backup systems and which, if they fail, could lead to loss of mission.
In an apparent narrowing of that list, Arnold Aldrich, manager of the shuttle systems office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told a House subcommittee last week that NASA's Program Requirements Control Board had examined 96 "potential safety concerns" involving the orbiter, the external tank and the main shuttle engine.
Of these, he said, "44 are of a level of significance that improved hardware, software, processing and/or operations may be required before resuming flight activities."
Asked about the items, Fletcher said yesterday that "a lot of them have to do with landing problems, like the brakes, the heavier payloads putting too much of a stress on the landing gear and alternative launch sites . . . some of them have to do with the up phase, launch phase."
NASA officials said yesterday that a list of the 44 items was not available for release. But they noted that the inability of the shuttle's landing brakes to stop the vehicle reliably has long been identified as a safety problem and had forced many shuttle flights to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California rather than the relatively narrow runway at the Kennedy Space Center.
In addition, NASA spokeswoman Barbara Schwartz said the Aldrich group had been looking at the adequacy of transatlantic "abort landing sites" in Casablanca, Morocco, Senegal and Spain. Such sites are supposed to be available if the shuttle requires an emergency landing.
Fletcher, making a strong push yesterday for full funding for a new $2.8 billion shuttle orbiter, said he is arguing with the Reagan administration over corresponding cuts in other NASA programs, such as a manned space station, to pay for it.
"We're in trouble, and we need some help," he said. "It's time we were given a little bit of support and not be forced to take it out of our hide."