Two shuttle astronauts tipped their space helmets to Morton Thiokol workers Monday for a job well done in getting America's space program back off the ground.
"This tremendous effort of thousands of people throughout the country is one of the greatest exhibitions of teamwork we've seen in this country in a long time," Cmdr. Rick Hauck said during the rally, held in the parking lot of Morton Thiokol's plant 25 miles west of Brigham City."Most people think the boosters gave most of the thrust that lifted Discovery, but a fair amount of emotion lifted us as well."
Hauck and pilot Dick Covey flew to Morton Thiokol, which undertook a 21/2-year effort to redesign the solid fuel rocket boosters following the explosion aboard the shuttle Challenger.
The astronauts were joined by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, Gov. Norm Bangerter and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, which prompted an angry outburst by state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi.
Garn responded with harsh words for Horiuchi, who had complained that the timing of the rally the day before the election made it appear to be politically motivated.
The polls show Bangerter in a dead heat with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson. Hansen is fighting a challenge by former Rep. Gunn McKay. Horiuchi said Democrats were not informed of the event or invited.
"For (Horiuchi) to make something politcal out of this is insulting and ridiculous. These men risked their lives in space. The people at Morton Thiokol do an incredible job. Randy ought to keep his damn mouth shut," Garn said.
Bangerter said he was asked to attend as governor, and he was at the rally in that capacity.
"They go all over the country and they don't quit just because of an election," the governor said.
But politics was not an issue at Thiokol.
"Thank you. You did it, and we knew you could," said Covey, the pilot on the Discovery. "What you do on a day-to-day basis pretty well can be a life-or-death matter for those of us who ride the space shuttle. You have to deal with that stress on a daily basis."
The two astronauts presented John Thirkill, vice president of Space Operations at Thiokol, a plaque showing a collage of the Discovery mission and thanking Thiokol for the hard work.
"It's been a long several years getting back from Challenger," said Hauck. "It has not been easy. There has been a lot of work, dedication, professionalism and soul-searching. We are very proud of our NASA relatives here."
Garn also defended Morton Thiokol, which has taken the brunt of accusations concerning the ill-fated Challenger flight.
"Thiokol took a bum rap," he said. "The Challenger had good boosters that were flown out of tolerance."
Both astronauts described the experience of going back into space as spectacular beyond description.
"Traveling at five miles per second, it takes seven minutes to cross the United States," said Covey. "As we crossed over I thought that this was where all the people who did the work are and they are responsible for the great time we were having."