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NASA Figure In Challenger Explosion Retires At Space Center

February 22, 1988

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) _ Judson A Lovingood, a space shuttle rocket engineer who questioned whether to launch Challenger on the eve of its explosion two years ago, has retired from NASA to join the aerospace firm Morton Thiokol.

Lovingood, 51, retired Saturday after 25 years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration rather than accepting a transfer to NASA headquarters in Washington. He began work today with Morton Thiokol’s Huntsville operation, which he said has little connection with the shuttle program.

Morton Thiokol, which manufactures the shuttle’s booster rockets, has its main shuttle plant in Utah.

Lovingood had been given the option of retiring or moving to Washington for NASA as deputy director of systems engineering and analysis for the shuttle program.

″He elected to retire in lieu of accepting the assignment for economic and other reasons,″ said Dave Drachlis, a spokesman for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center here. ″Dr. Lovingood has said that he has worked on the shuttle since 1969. The Challenger accident has exacted a great personal toll, and he felt it was time for a change.″

Lovingood was deputy manager of the shuttle projects office at Marshall when Morton Thiokol engineers recommended against launching the shuttle in frigid weather at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 28, 1986. He urged unsuccessfully that the issue be taken to higher levels at NASA.

″I was contacted about 4:30 that afternoon (Jan. 27) by a guy from the Cape,″ Lovingood recalled Sunday. ″He wanted me to get other people at the teleconference.

″A point was being made, and the point being that I heard that Thiokol people were recommending that we not launch,″ he said. ″I felt like with a recommendation like that, that we shouldn’t launch, period.″

The presidential commission that investigated the Challenger disaster concluded that the decision-making process prior to the launch was flawed, with the views of Morton Thiokol engineers overruled and critical concerns not relayed to top NASA levels where officials were pushing for launch.

The commission said flawed O-rings in the booster rocket allowed hot gases to leak through to the external fuel tank. The explosion 73 seconds after launch killed the seven crew members.

Lovingood subsequently was named associate director for the engineering office at Marshall and later became associate director for space transportation systems.

Lovingood was replaced at Marshall by George Hopson, previously director of the systems analysis and integration laboratory at the facility.

Several top Marshall officials retired after the Challenger accident, including William Lucas, Marshall director; Lawrence Mulloy, booster project manager, and Stanley Reinartz, shuttle projects manager.

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