Rep. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in political action committee (PAC) contributions, but one contribution has attracted the most attention -- the one from Morton Thiokol Inc., the Ogden, Utah, firm that built the booster rocket blamed for the Challenger space shuttle disaster nearly five years ago. The crash killed the seven-member crew, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe of Concord, N.H.

Smith, in a competitive race for the Senate seat being vacated by Gordon J. Humphrey (R), received $250 in 1986, 1987 and 1988 from the firm. Smith's initial campaign contribution from the Morton Thiokol PAC came eight months after the Challenger explosion.

"As a congressman from the home state of Christa McAuliffe, he lacked the good judgment to {reject} a contribution -- or was it intended to be hush money -- from Morton Thiokol," the Concord Monitor editorialized this month.

Smith, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that has oversight responsibility for NASA, defended his acceptance of the donations.

"They made a tragic mistake, but certainly Morton Thiokol is involved in a great many other government contracts, and that regrettable matter should not disqualify them from being involved in the political process," Smith told the Nashua {N.H.} Telegraph.

Smith's opponent, former senator John Durkin (D), who repeatedly criticizes Smith for accepting more than $500,000 in PAC money, would only say of the Morton Thiokol donation, "The contribution speaks for itself."