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Panelist Feynman raps NASA

NASA either intentionally misled Congress and the public or lacked common sense by continuing to launch the shuttle Challenger, says Richard Feynman, a member of the Rogers Commission. The agency ignored rocket-booster problems and exaggerated safety ``to the point of fantasy,'' says the California Institute of Technology theoretical physicist, who won a Nobel Prize in 1965.

The Challenger disaster ``was a final accident of a sequence of things in which there was warning after warning after warning that something was wrong,'' he says, calling the behavior of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration a form of Russian roulette.

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Dr. Feynman says NASA managers kept insisting that the chance of a catastrophic rocket failure was one in 100,000, even though low-level engineers pegged the odds at roughly one in 100.

In a written report that will be published as an appendix to the commission report released Monday, Feynman said he had two theories as to why NASA officials overestimated safety: ``One is that they actually misled people.'' Such deception was meant ``to ensure the supply of funds.'' Two is that they ``were incredibly lacking in common sense'' and fooled themselves because of ``an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their engineers.''