WASHINGTON -- NASA will use the Rogers Commission report on the Challenger disaster as a 'road map' to guide its recovery, officials said today during hearings highlighted by new film of the shuttle's crew cabin as it shot away from the explosion.
The film, made by a NASA tracking camera, was brought to a congressional hearing so agency officials could describe Challenger's final flight in detail for the House Science and Technology Committee, investigating the results of the disaster commission.
The film included shots that showed the nose section of the shuttle, containing the ship's crew cabin, flying free of the explosion of the spaceship's giant fuel tank, possibly tumbling as it streaked away.
NASA Administrator James Fletcher told the House Science and Technology Committee the space agency is busy implementing the disaster commission's recommendations but that no shuttles will be launched until it is absolutely safe.
'I have said our target date is July 1987,' Fletcher said. 'We will fly in 1987 if it is safe to do so. We will not fly if it is not.'
He made the comments in the second day of hearings in congressional investigations launched amid charges from the Rogers Commission Monday of bad management and minimal safety programs at NASA.
Rep. Robert Roe, D-N.J., chairing the House Science and Technology Committee hearing, said he was particularly interested in NASA's plans for studying ways to allow astronauts to escape from a malfunctioning shuttle and how the agency will budget such activity.
'What kind of figure do we assign to a life?' Roe asked. 'We're going to take another serious look at this, an in-depth look at what we may be able to do to help astronauts (in accidents).
'We're going to be looking in our next oversight to that particular issue, as to how we put the system cost analysis-benefit ratio to the loss of human life,' he said.
Rear Adm. Richard Truly, associate administrator for spaceflight, told the House committee today his engineers welcomed the Rogers report and vowed to implement a wide range of recommendations to improve management and safety.
'I embrace their report and believe that I have set into motion the initial steps to return the space shuttle to safe and effective flight,' Truly said. 'Their report is a road map for me, and I intend to use it as my mandate for action.'
'I intend to ensure that the management structure and its system is modified so that reporting requirements are clearly defined and rigidly enforced, and management at all levels is informed of all significant issues and their status,' Truly said.
The shuttle chief also said astronaut Robert Crippen will head a task force to study ways to improve agency communications.
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., told commission Chairman William Rogers Tuesday the blue-ribbon panel did not go far enough when it blamed a flawed NASA management system as a contributing cause of the Challenger disaster.
'You and I differ,' Hollings told the former secretary of state. 'You say the process was flawed. I find the process and safety procedures violated. If we let them know down at NASA that they are going to be held responsible then we'll have a fine safe program that we all want to continue.'
Hollings lashed out against Lawrence Mulloy, former chief of the shuttle booster rocket program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., for repeatedly signing waivers that allowed shuttles to fly even though he and others knew of engineering problems with sensitive booster fuel joints.
'I find that gross negligence,' Hollings said at a Senate Commerce space subcommittee hearing. 'I don't mean he was trying to kill astronauts. Let's be blunt about it. ... I think his conduct was of the type and nature of willful gross misconduct.'
Mulloy said in a telephone interview that he had 'no comment on what Senator Hollings or anyone else said on that,' but he did say his actions were supported by approved NASA procedures.
Rogers told the House Science and Technology Committee earlier Tuesday he saw no evidence of gross negligence or basis for criminal prosecution as a result of the shuttle disaster. He repeated his position in the afternoon before the Senate space subcommittee.
'I have reservations from a standpoint of a prosecutor whether you'd ever have a successful prosecution of anybody,' Rogers told Hollings. 'You might be able to proceed but I doubt it. I don't think there's enough willfulness there.
'Secondly, I doubt that it would serve the national interest. I don't see what's to be gained by it. I mean everybody is on notice. People involved have suffered a lot.
'I'm not sure picking out any scapegoat and prosecuting would serve the national interest. I hope it doesn't happen.'
In one heated exchange, Hollings grilled Rogers with questions about rumors the administration put pressure on NASA to launch Challenger with New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe on board to coincide with the president's State of the Union address.
'It's a little bit like trying to investigate a paternity case, going around asking people who is responsible,' Rogers replied. 'But there is no baby, it never happened. You've got to have somebody who says I think there may be some evidence. There's no evidence in this case.'
The Rogers Commission said Mulloy imposed launch 'constraints' because of booster rocket concerns and then removed them with waivers on every shuttle flight since last July, including the Challenger mission.
'When Mr. Mulloy put on constraints and then removed them all the time it was meaningless, you had a constraint that had no meaning, nothing was done to fix it,' Rogers told Hollings.