Morton Thiokol workers are war heroes who helped America regain its pride and accomplishment in space, the NASA manager who oversaw the solid rocket booster redesign effort said Friday.

Hundreds of Morton Thiokol employees gathered outside the aerospace firm's administration building to hear atta-boys from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials who guided the redesign effort."We call these the good times, not only for NASA but for the whole NASA team," said J.R. Thompson, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center which manages propulsion systems for the shuttle program.

The successful four-day flight of the shuttle Discovery last month was necessary to get the U.S. space program back into orbit, Thompson said. "It was also to rekindle the pride we have in America and in ourselves."

"But this here in the hills of Utah is where it all began," Thompson told his appreciative audience, adding, "You've done right."

While NASA was congratulating the aerospace contractor for a job well done, President Reagan was giving accolades and thanks to the Discovery astronauts "for taking us into space."

Reagan told the five astronauts in a Rose Garden ceremony that the Discovery mission symbolized a return to space for the country and "America intends to stay there."

"We just want to say thanks again for this mission and for all that it has meant to this country," Reagan said.

The Space Transportation System flight No. 26 verified that the more than 100 design changes incorporated into the Morton Thiokol-made solid rocket boosters were "every bit as good as advertised," he said. "And with the STS-26 flight, it's been sweet."

But the 32-month hiatus the United States took in space flight was not so sweet.

A presidential commission that investigated the January 1986 Challenger explosion which grounded the shuttle fleet blamed a faulty O-ring seal on a right side booster rocket for allowing hot gases to escape and ignite the huge external fuel tank.

NASA and Morton Thiokol management took a beating in Congress, the press and the courts while engineers and commissions decided how the manned space program should continue.

"I know that you feel as I do, the last two years have been a war," where pride and confidence were the casualties, Thompson said. The team of Morton Thiokol engineers who redesigned the rockets and reaffirmed a commitment to quality space hardware "have what we folks at NASA call the right stuff to get it done."

Gerald Smith, solid rocket booster program manager for Marshall Space Flight Center, told the workers, "You should take enormous pride" in producing what he said were the best-made boosters "in the history of the solid rocket motor industry."

"The most important thing to me is you people came back from a devastating loss to the pinnacle of STS-26," Smith said.

The people who helped lift Discovery to the heavens can take a place alongside the spaceplane's crew as heroes with the right stuff.

"The vice president was right last night _ you are America's heroes. You are his heroes and mine . . . what you have done for the program and the country will be long remembered," Reagan told the Discovery five, referring to Vice President George Bush's presidential debate Thursday night with Democratic candidate Michael Dukakais.

"You . . . and the entire team that made the mission of the Discovery a success, deserve the praise of a grateful nation."

Discovery skipper Frederick H. Hauck gave the president a blue astronaut's jacket, complete with patches from the mission that had been taken into space aboard the shuttle.