Challenger Tragedy: Presidential Report
By Marty McDowell/NASA
The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
released their report on June 6, 1986. The complete report, also known as
the Rogers Commission Report, follows:
The accident of Space Shuttle Challenger, mission 51-L, interrupting
for a time one of the most productive engineering, scientific and
exploratory programs in history, evoked a wide range of deeply felt public
responses. There was grief and sadness for the loss of seven brave members
of the crew; firm national resolve that those men and women be forever
enshrined in the annals of American heroes, and a determination, based on
that resolve and in their memory to strengthen the Space Shuttle program
so that this tragic event will become a milestone on the way to achieving
the full potential that space offers to mankind.
The President, who was moved and troubled by this accident in a very
personal way, appointed an independent Commission made up of persons not
connected with the mission to investigate it. The mandate of the
Commission was to:
1. Review the circumstances surrounding the accident to establish the
probable cause or causes of the accident; and 2. Develop recommendations
for corrective or other action based upon the Commission's findings and
Immediately after being appointed, the Commission moved forward with
its investigation and, with the full support of the White House, held
public hearings dealing with the facts leading up to the accident. In a
closed society other options are available; in an open society -- unless
classified matters are involved -- other options are not, either as matter
of law or as a practical matter.
In this case a vigorous investigation and full disclosure of the facts
were necessary. The way to deal with a failure of this magnitude is to
disclose all the facts fully and openly; to take immediate steps to
correct mistakes that led to the failure; and to continue the program with
renewed confidence and determination.
The Commission construed its mandate somewhat broadly to include
recommendations on safety matters not necessarily involved in this
accident but which require attention to make future flights safer. Careful
attention was given to concerns expressed by astronauts because the Space
Shuttle program will only succeed if the highly qualified men and women
who fly the Shuttle have confidence in the system.
However, the Commission did not construe its mandate to require a
detailed investigation of all aspects of the Space Shuttle program; to
review budgetary matters; or to interfere with or supersede Congress in
any way in the performance of its duties. Rather, the Commission focused
its attention on the safety aspects of future flights based on the lessons
learned from the investigation with the objective being to return to safe
Congress recognized the desirability, in the first instance, of having
a single investigation of this national tragedy. It very responsibly
agreed to await the Commission's findings before deciding what further
action might be necessary to carry out its responsibilities.
For the first several days after the accident -- possibly because of
the trauma resulting from the accident -- NASA appeared to be withholding
information about the accident from the public. After the Commission began
its work, and at its suggestion, NASA began releasing a great deal of
information that helped to reassure the public that all aspects of the
accident were being investigated and that the full story was being told in
an orderly and thorough manner.
Following the suggestion of the Commission, NASA established several
teams of persons not involved in the mission 51-L launch process to
support the Commission and its panels. These NASA teams have cooperated
with the Commission in every aspect of its work. The result has been a
comprehensive and complete investigation.
The Commission believes that its investigation and report have been
responsive to the request of the President and hopes that they will serve
the best interests of the nation in restoring the United States space
program to its preeminent position in the world.