Sharp criticism of one man, NASA engineer Lawrence B. Mulloy, and one NASA facility, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., runs throughout the report on the Challenger accident.
Mulloy is the proud, stubborn, unapologetic career manager in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who was in charge of the faulty solid-rocket boosters the day they destroyed Challenger. Mulloy, among others, argued the day before the Challenger launch that the cold weather was not a significant problem. Mulloy has said since the accident that nothing revealed by the investigation would have changed his decision to launch.
The report consistently faults Mulloy's judgment and his handling of the joint's design and performance problems, at one point indicating that commissioners believe Mulloy lied in his testimony to them.
Mulloy said he would not comment on the report until he had read all of it. A Marshall spokesman said yesterday that no copies of the document were expected at the center until midday today and refused comment.
Mulloy is in many ways the embodiment of the center where he works. The installation has had a reputation among NASA's 17 facilities as autocratic, defensive, uncooperative and unwilling to discuss its problems with "outsiders" from other centers.
It was because of those traits, the report said, that officials who decided to launch Challenger were "unaware of the recent history of problems concerning the O-rings and the joint, and were unaware of the initial written recommendation . . . against the launch."
"If the decision-makers had known all of the facts," the report said, "it is highly unlikely that they would have decided to launch."
The commission's report made nine recommendations, one devoted exclusively to Marshall, whose management, it said, "is altogether at odds with the need . . . to function as part of a system working toward successful flight missions."
The report urged "energetic steps" to bring Marshall into line, "whether by changes of personnel, organization, indoctrination or all three."
Some of those steps have begun. Since the accident, the strong-willed Marshall director, William R. Lucas, has announced his retirement. Mulloy has been shifted to a job of reduced responsibility and may leave the agency. His boss, Stanley Reinartz, who told the commission he decided not to pass on cold weather concerns to higher officials, requested transfer to duties unrelated to the shuttle. George Hardy, another official who argued before the launch that cold was not a concern, has retired.
Marshall officials designed a poor joint, the report said, never understood it, and when the joint performed in the opposite way from what was predicted, no tests were ordered to discover why. Safety officials at Marshall did not keep track of mounting worry over the joint or efforts to solve its problems, although problems grew worse as flights continued.
"An effectively functioning safety . . . organization [at Marshall] could have taken action to prevent the . . . accident," the report said.
Marshall officials, Mulloy in particular, failed to communicate the seriousness of the problem to those who had to make launch decisions, the report said.
In testimony reprinted in the report, Commission Chairman William P. Rogers asked Mulloy, "Who did you tell about this?"
"Everyone, sir," Mulloy replied.
"And they all knew about it at the time of [Challenger]?" Rogers asked.
"Yes sir," Mulloy replied.
The report then said, "It is disturbing . . . that contrary to the testimony of [Mulloy], the seriousness of concern was not conveyed" to appropriate levels.
Rogers said at a news conference yesterday that the commission took pains not to single out individuals or individual NASA centers for blame.
But, he said the media may have misinterpreted his recent criticism of NASA's reluctance to cooperate during the investigation. "It was not NASA as a whole," Rogers said. "It was the Marshall Center, largely."