NASA won another chance Friday to show why it shouldn't be forced to release the taped conversations of astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger moments before it exploded.

A bitterly divided federal appeals court held on a 6-5 vote that a lower court erred in ordering the release of the tape without balancing the public interest against the harm of invading the privacy of the seven astronauts and their survivors.The decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sends the case back to U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who had ordered NASA in 1987 to release the tapes to The New York Times.

The ruling reversed both the original district court opinion and a 1988 holding by a split three-judge panel of the appeals court that had upheld the release of the tapes.