Recovering from the Accident
In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, and particularly after the reviews by the Rogers Commission and others assessing the reality of the shuttle’s operations and National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) less-than-stellar performance in managing them, it became clear that there was a high degree of self-delusion in the way the shuttle had been perceived. Rather than a vehicle delivering on the promises that NASA had made to Richard Nixon in 1972, claiming that the space shuttle would “revolutionize transportation into near space by routinizing it” and would “take the astronomical costs out of astronautics,” the shuttle was revealed to be a vehicle that was expensive and difficult to operate safely. The stage was thus set for a debate over post-Challenger launch policy. That seven-month debate proved very contentious, with its focal points being both whether to build a new shuttle orbiter to replace Challenger and what role the shuttle would play in future U.S. launch policy.