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Congressman Lambasts Chairman of Morton Thiokol for Remarks

June 17, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A New York congressman lambasted the chairman of Morton Thiokol today for remarks to an interviewer that ″this shuttle thing will cost us 10 cents a share,″ predicting the quote would ″go down in the annals of history″ for banality and gross insensitivity.

Rep. James Scheuer, D-N.Y., suggested to Charles Locke that NASA should now invoke a penalty clause that would cost Thiokol $10 million because the rocket booster it manufactured was the cause of the Jan. 28 Challenger accident.

The Rogers Commission found the booster failure to be the single cause of the accident and the House Committee on Science and Technology took testimony from Morton Thiokol officials.

″This morning you said it was your rocket motor that failed,″ Scheuer said to Locke during a committee hearing. ″Now let’s leave the Philadelphia lawyers out of this ... In this contract it’s perfectly clearly stated that in the event of a failure of the solid rocket that $10 million penalty would be triggered and the loss of your ... flight success incentive fee would be triggered.″

Locke said, ″The contract is a very complex document,″ and declined further comment.

Scheuer began his questioning of Locke saying:

″In the first page of your statement you talk about the pain and anguish of this tragic accident. Is this what you were referring to when you mentioned to a newspaper correspondent recently that, and I quote, ‘this shuttle thing will cost us 10 cents a share this year’?″

Locke replied: ″Yes sir, it was, and I’d like to clarify the circumstances ... This was an article by the Wall Street Journal, who asked me to give them a financial analysis of where the company stood as a result of the shuttle incident, as well as all other factors of the company. So I was simply responding ...″

Scheuer estimated that the cost of the shuttle accident ″to every man, woman and child in the United States″ came to, ″not 10 cents a share but perhaps $20 or $25 a share - and that’s not counting the incalculable loss of time we can’t put a monetary value on, the trauma to the American people, the incalculable loss in lives, the seven lives that were lost.″

Scheuer likened Locke’s quote to words he said were spoken by William Vanderbilt in 1882: ″The public be damned.″

″For over a century that remark has stood unchallenged and unparalleled for its gross insensitivity, for its banality, for its tastelessness. But I believe that you have finally done it,″ he told Locke.

The congressman also took Locke to task for this quote:

″Once this commission issues its report and this thing is closed, it’s going to be a different situation because people are paid to do productive work for our company and not to wander around the country gossiping with people.″

He told Locke he felt the comments could be construed to chill the desire of Morton Thiokol employees who continue to testify concerning the Challenger accident.

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