House committee questions NASA expertise

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A congressional committee says the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may not have the technical and scientific expertise to conduct the space shuttle program. The House Science and Technology Committee, in a report on the Challenger accident, says it will conduct an in-depth review next year of the space agency's technical ability.

The report says pressure to achieve 24 shuttle flights a year ``directly contributed to unsafe launch operations'' and that some people in NASA may still be pushing for an unrealistic number of flights. That, the committee said, jeopardizes NASA's safety-first priority.

NASA's technical expertise has suffered, the committee also said, by staffing losses over several years and the imbalance between government and private industry pay. The salary structure inhibits NASA's ability to recruit top talent, the report said.

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The congressional committee also stated that until NASA understands the deficiencies in its solid rocket motor testing, it ``will not be able to protect against a similar breakdown in its system of checks and balances in the future.'' NASA officials, whom a spokesman said had not seen the report, had no response.

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