Theresa O’Connor

Space Shuttle

Explaining Thirty Years of Fudge:

While a great deal of the testimony before the Columbia Accident Investigation Board has been newsworthy to non-specialists — and the Board has by now made it plain that it does not intend to serve as the blind puppets of NASA's officials — nothing in it up until April 23 could be described as "explosive".

But that is the only possible word that can be applied to the testimony on that day by Robert F. Thompson, the Shuttle program's manager during the crucial period from 1970 until just after the first Shuttle flight in 1981. Thompson delivered a whole series of bombshells on a wide variety of subjects, which can be roughly grouped into two categories.

The first is his casual official confirmation of the astonishing degree of deliberate, flat-out dishonesty that went into NASA's tactics to persuade Congress to approve the Shuttle program in the first place — plus his apparent revelation that, to some extent, President Richard Nixon himself collaborated in it.