WASHINGTON -- Former NASA whistleblower Richard Cook said he asked Attorney General Edwin Meese Thursday to consider ordering a new investigation into the shuttle Challenger accident and appointing a special prosecutor to conduct it.
Cook, who now works as a budget analyst for the Treasury Department, said he believes NASA officials may have perceived pressure from the White House to launch Challenger Jan. 28 because President Reagan was planning to deliver his State of the Union address that night.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes was asked Feb. 26 if the White House was involved in the launching and he angrily denied such an idea, saying it was the 'most vicious and distorted rumor I have ever heard.'
NASA spokesman David Garrett Thursday also denied any White House involvement in the launch decision.
'Both the Rogers Commission and individual members of Congress exhaustively investigated the question of White House pressure on NASA to launch the 51L mission, including the examination of NASA telephone logs,' Garrett said. 'No evidence was found to substantiate the charges.'
Cook said he requested the investigation in a letter to Meese delivered Thursday morning to the Justice Department. Justice spokesman Terry Eastland said he was not aware of the letter but said it would be reviewed when it was received.
In the letter, Cook said he has been examining the circumstances surrounding the accident and the investigation conducted by the presidential commission headed by former William Rogers, a former attorney general and secretary of state.
'Crimes may have been committed by high government officials in covering up the reasons NASA did not launch Challenger on Jan. 26, 1986, and did launch over the objections of contractor engineers on Jan. 28, 1986.
'In my opinion, some of the persons who may have been involved in this coverup are of a high enough position to invoke the attorney general's obligation to consider having a special prosecutor appointed,' Cook said.
Cook said at a later news conference that he did not have direct evidence of any pressure, but said he did not believe the issue had been investigated adequately.
Cook wrote a memo in July 1985 warning that 'flight safety has been and is being compromised by potential failure' of shuttle booster rocket seals. Then, in a memo following the accident, Cook wrote that it was his opinion that the Marshall Space Flight Center 'has not been adequately responsive to headquarters concerns about flight safety ...'
Cook testified to the Rogers Commission on Feb. 11 and left NASA the next week to work at the Treasury Department. He said he was on leave for Thursday's news conference.