Since the Russians put the first man in space there have been politics involved to some extent in space missions. It is possible that political factors contributed to the rush to launch Challenger over the stated objections of solid rocket booster engineers at the Morton Thiokiol Utah contractor the day before. Cook makes clear the factors that may have influenced NASA administrators to insist on a launch. Cook mentions that in the Rogers Commission hearings it came out that the Challenger launch turned NASA policy on its head. Instead of engineers proving the launch was safe to go, they had to prove with certainty it was NOT safe to go. Cook was a very sharp witted budget analyst with a thorough understanding of problems with the shuttle, and the well known in NASA information on the defects of the solid rocket booster. He presents a captivating well documented account of the Challenger disaster, from his position inside the agency.
The Reagan administration bears responsibility for the Challenger disaster because the two leaders of NASA leading up to the disaster, Beggs and Graham, were Reagan political appointees. If you believe those at the top deserve credit for success and for failure, then the buck has to stop on the desk of the NASA chief executive. James Beggs, NASA Chief and Reagan appointee, resigned due to a scandal relating to contract fraud from before his NASA job. William Robert Graham, a Reagan politically appointed Deputy NASA administrator, succeeded Beggs as Acting NASA administrator in December, 1985. Graham was the top man at NASA when the shuttle Challenger was launched in the cold early morning of January 28, 1986, the same day scheduled for Ronald Reagan's SOTU speech. The Reagan administrations had grand plans to use the shuttle as a 'space truck' to launch all military payloads on a rigorous schedule. Cook wonders if this acted to create pressure to not delay the launch? Cook doesn't answer but presents the facts. The investigation afterward uncovered a written submission from Graham and NASA suggesting wording that might be used by the President in his SOTU speech that very night, hailing NASA for its accomplishments and highlighting Krista McAuliffe, the first 'citizen' and teacher in space. Did this also create pressure to push for the launch, especially in the cold early morning? The shuttle exploded minutes after liftoff at about 45,000 feet, and the SOTU was delayed. The nation was in shock. Later, after the official Rogers investigation, Senator Fritz Hollings requested a copy of the first SOTU speech for his Senate investigation, Cook relates Hollings said that the last page of the SOTU was missing. The end of the SOTU is often where a President highlights an American hero. Did Reagan want to do that for Krista McAuliffe? The Rogers Commission determined that the disaster occurred due to the solid rocket booster O-rings being too cold and not resilient enough to seal a critical joint in the SRB. The temperatures and O-ring resiliency were known problems. The Rogers Commission did not determine why the launch was done that day, or why it was not even delayed until the afternoon when the temperatures were much warmer.
NASA Chief Graham left NASA later in 1986. Graham went on to a prestigious political appointee position as science advisor in the Reagan White House.