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Press: Decision To Restrict Press Illogical, Irrational

September 28, 1988

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The decision to relocate half the journalists from the space shuttle press center by midnight before launch was condemned as irrational and illogical Wednesday by reporters assigned to the Discovery liftoff.

″The logic escapes me.″ said Kathy Sawyer of the Washington Post.

The Air Force, citing safety concerns in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster, is limiting the number of reporters at NASA’s Complex 39 press site to 1,800. More than 5,000 have applied for credentials.

″I don’t understand the difference between having 4,000 here and 1,800 here,″ said John Wilford of The New York Times. ″It’s just a lousy situation.″

The Times and the Post, like all newspapers, were being restricted to two staffers at the press site until an hour after launch. Sawyer said the limitation would make her work ″logistically much more difficult,″ since facilities at the remote site are rudimentary.

Studies conducted by the Air Force in the wake of the Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger accident and a Titan 34D explosion three months later have raised safety concerns about the press site 4.2 miles from launch pad 39B.

Reporters restricted from the main site will view the launch from a location about 6 1/2 miles from the pad along the NASA Causeway.

The studies concern the patterns of falling debris from solid rockets should they malfunction just after launch and have to be blown up by a signal from the ground.

Jerry Hannifin, a Time magazine correspondent who has been covering space launches from the beginning, has protested to the White House and NASA.

″There are far greater dangers from mosquitoes that might be carrying yellow fever or malaria (at the secondary press site) than from an exploding SRB (solid rocket booster),″ he said.

″We’re separated from our mission. It’s ominous,″ Hannifin said. ″I’ve covered World War II, Korea, Southeast Asia. This is just part of the business. It’s our decision.″

″I’m not convinced it’s totally a matter of safety. I think the military would prefer to launch this stuff just as they launch Titans - in secrecy.″

NASA is allowing its regular day shift, about 12,800 workers, to be on duty.

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