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Rocket Engineer Says He’s Suffering Because of Challenger

February 5, 1987

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ A rocket engineer who unsuccessfully tried to stop the launch of space shuttle Challenger says he’s under psychiatric care because of the disaster and can never return to his old job.

″I have headaches. I cry. I have bad dreams. I go into a hypnotic trance almost daily,″ said Morton Thiokol Inc. engineer R.V. Ebeling.

″I think the world should know there are some other casualties from the Challenger accident,″ Ebeling, 60, said in an interview in his Brigham City, Utah, home.

The Houston Chronicle quoted him in Wednesday’s newspaper as saying he is under care of psychiatrists and has been under ″terrible stress″ since the Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger accident that killed seven astronauts.

″I told Morton Thiokol I can never go back there,″ he said. ″They are taking good care of me. I’m still on the payroll. But I’m sorry. I can’t go back.″

Thiokol manufactured the rocket engine that was blamed for the accident that destroyed Challenger. Ebeling was the manager in charge of the solid rocket motor ignition system, final assembly and ground tests, and has been employed by Thiokol for 25 years.

The report of a presidential commission that investigated the accident said Ebeling and other Thiokol engineers tried to stop the launch. They were afraid that low temperatures would cause joints to fail in the solid rocket boosters. The engineers were overruled by Thiokol and NASA managers.

Commission investigators determined that a leaky rocket seal caused Challenger to explode.

Ebeling said he first warned about cold weather affecting the seal 24 hours before Challenger was to be launched. ″I was the first to speak out absolutely,″ he said. ″On Jan. 27, at 11 a.m. It all started in my office, one full day before the launch.″

He said that when he learned the temperatures around the Kennedy Space Center launch pad might be as low as 18 degrees, ″I knew there was trouble,″ and he assembled a group of engineers to discuss the problem.

″We went over the data and it was extremely bad news,″ he said.

The data later was formally presented to Thiokol and NASA managers. Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, however, discounted the information. Thiokol managers then reversed themselves and approved the launch, despite the objections of Ebeling and other engineers.

The temperature when Challenger lifted off was 36 degrees. The spacecraft exploded 74 seconds after launch.

Ebeling said that last week, on the anniversary of the Challenger accident, he and Roger Boisjoly, another Thiokol engineer who tried to stop the launch, drove into the Utah wilderness ″to get away from the rest of the world.″ They spent five hours talking and comforting one another, he said.

Boisjoly, 48, also has said he suffers nervous disorders as a result of the accident and has sought psychiatric care. He is on disability leave from Thiokol and says he does not plan to return.

Last week, Boisjoly filed a $1 billion suit against Thiokol alleging defamation of character, and has filed a $10 million administrative claim against NASA.

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