A top Morton Thiokol Inc. official says he's betting on the company continuing to produce solid rocket motors for the space shuttle, despite current congressional pressure to abandon its design.
"I predict we'll be making solid rocket motors for as long as the shuttle flies," said Morton Thiokol Aerospace Group President Ed Garrison. "In fact, I'd bet on it."Garrison acknowledged the company took a business risk last summer when it decided against bidding on the the Advanced Solid Rocket Motor program. The new motor is intended to eventually replace the redesigned boosters made by Morton Thiokol for current shuttle flights.
But Garrison, speaking Tuesday night to the Brigham City Area Chamber of Commerce, said Morton Thiokol was too busy redesigning the old boosters to spare the manpower or resources needed to prepare a bid.
The old booster design, specifically a faulty seal, was blamed for the 1986 Challenger disaster. Hot gases escaped a booster, triggering the explosion that destroyed the spacecraft and killed its seven-member crew, a presidential commission found.
But while Morton Thiokol stayed out of the Advanced Solid Rocket Motor bidding, Garrison said he still hoped the company would come out on top as its redesigned booster proves successful.
The company bet on NASA and Congress deciding to stay with Morton Thiokol's boosters rather than spending millions on the advanced motor, Garrison said.
"What we're going to do is to work as hard as we can to do the best work possible," he said. "If we can do that we believe that it will make less and less sense to abandon our design.
"We've got the experience, we've got the expertise. Why would you want to give that up? We've seen first-hand the problems with the shuttle. We don't want to go through that again, so we're doing everything we can to make sure we're doing things right," Garrison added.
NASA's plans call for the first advanced motors to fly in 1993. Thiokol's boosters would be phased out over three years and would be completely replaced by 1998.
However, former President Reagan's budget proposal to Congress cut out the $60 million in redesign funds and does not budget for the construction of a new rocket motor plant planned in Mississippi. That omission has led Garrison and others to speculate that the advanced motor may never be built.
Thiokol is now making plans for a $150 million upgrading of facilities at the company's plant 25 miles west of Brigham City. The company also is putting money and time into a variety of new design products.
"When we complete this $150 million in construction we'll have the most modern and cost-efficient plant in the free world," Garrison said. "Other companies will have a hard time competing with us."
Garrison called 1988 "the year of our recovery."