UNITED STATES. Astronauts attack NASA safety record
More than six weeks after the Challenger shuttle disaster, the US space agency faces a new storm of criticism touched off by its chief astronaut, John Young. In a memorandum made public March 8, Mr. Young alleged that astronauts on previous shuttle missions were lucky to be alive because of what Young called an awesome list of safety flaws. Young is the head of the astronaut office of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).
Three days later, two more astronauts criticized safety flaws in the shuttle program. One said that pressure to launch a mission a month cut emphasis on safety over the past year.
When the space program began its ambitious plan last year to launch a shuttle a month, astronaut Gordon Fullerton said, ``We started to see more attention placed on getting the current flight off so that we could turn around and be ready to fly the next one. . . . That pressure gradually increased up to the present time.''
Astronaut Vance Brand said he agreed with Young's complaints. Young voiced his complaints in a memorandum to space agency officials in connection with investigations of the Jan. 28 shuttle explosion, in which seven astronauts died.
But Mr. Brand said he was confident that NASA managers would now work with astronauts and other groups to correct safety problems.
Meanwhile, forensic experts have begun the task of examining the remains of the Challenger astronauts, according to space agency sources in Cape Canaveral.
Although stormy seas hampered efforts to recover wreckage of the space shuttle's crew cabin from the ocean floor, divers were able to bring back the remains of at least some of the astronauts, the sources said. The space agency announced March 9 that the crew cabin was found in 100 feet of water 25 miles off Cape Canaveral. The remains were found inside.
Forensics experts said analysis of the remains could help determine whether the crew was killed by the explosion, by super-heated fumes, by the impact with the water, or by drowning.