The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Cover-Ups—A Step Toward World Cataclysm

Ronald Reagan

…by Jonas E. Alexis and Richard C. Cook


Richard C. Cook is a retired federal government analyst. In his 32-year career he worked for five civilian agencies and the Carter White House. While with NASA he documented the flaws with the space shuttle solid rocket booster and testified before the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. Unable to return to NASA after his testimony, he spent the rest of his career with the U.S. Treasury Department.

On retirement in 2007, he published Challenger Revealed,[1] the definitive account of the multiple layers of cover-up surrounding the disaster. He went on to publish a book on monetary policy entitled We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform.

Jonas E. Alexis: The Republican Party has already revered Ronald Reagan as some kind of a national hero. The Economist called him “the man who beat Communism.”[2] Dinesh D’Souza extols him as “an ordinary man” who “became an extraordinary leader.”[3]

But people like D’Souza are agents of the capitalist ideology, which essentially views people as subjects and which seeks to establish Mammon as the fundamental principle in economic enterprise.[4] D’Souza himself used to work at the American Enterprise Institute, a Neoconservative think tank which seeks perpetual wars in the Middle East and promotes a rapacious capitalist system.

Reagan was also a defender of the capitalist system, which allowed him to fire more than 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981.[5] As E. Michael Jones points out, Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan

“were devoted disciples of Milton Friedman and the Jewish version of laissez-faire capitalism which Friedman had been promoting for decades at the University of Chicago.”[6]

Why were the air traffic controllers fired? Well, they were essentially asking for decent wages, which arguably would have allowed them to build their families and eventually make the entire nation prosperous.

Asking for decent wages, according to the capitalist system, is like asking for your death sentence. Greed and self-interest come first, and people or employees are just an afterthought. The man who established that immoral principle in a sophisticated way was Adam Smith.

Reagan’s attack on labor was a complete disaster for the United States, and some observers later declared that “It is clear now that the fallout from the strike has hurt workers and distorted our politics in ways Reagan himself did not advocate.”[7]

But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thought that Reagan did a great job by firing the air traffic controllers. “It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world,” he said, that “we weren’t to be messed with.”[8]

In any event, attacking labor was not Reagan’s only misgivings. His administration was responsible for one of the most disasters in the history of America, the Space Shuttle Challenger. Many people, of course, are unware of what actually happened, and this is why Richard C. Cook’s story is quite revealing.

Richard C. Cook

Richard C. Cook: On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded about a minute after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts, including Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe.

Subsequent investigations revealed that contractor engineers had warned prior to the launch that the unusually cold temperatures on shuttle systems that morning could have catastrophic effects. Also disclosed was the fact that NASA had known for years that the O-ring joints on the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters were unsafe but planned to keep flying while they were being re-engineered.

Also concealed were the takeover of NASA by those in charge of President Reagan’s Star War program and that fact that NASA launched against the concerns of engineers in order to have the Teacher-in-Space mission in orbit in time for Reagan’s state-of-the-union address.

Over 30 years ago I was the NASA analyst turned whistleblower who disrupted the cover-up the space agency had begun of the known causes of the space shuttle Challenger disaster when I released the O-ring documents to the press within 10 days of the January 28, 1986, explosion. I did this because I had been conducting an internal investigation of NASA’s longstanding knowledge of the potentially deadly flaws in the solid rocket booster O-ring joints and knew, as did agency management, that it was these flaws that destroyed Challenger and killed its seven astronauts. But I could not make myself keep silent when the officials in charge were lying. It simply would not have been the right thing to do.

New York Times journalist Phil Boffey won a Pulitzer Prize for the articles he wrote on the documents I handed him at the Times’ Washington, D.C., bureau.

Boffey’s articles paved the way for all subsequent news disclosures and investigations. But it was obvious to NASA I was the leaker. I was set-up for public attack and humiliation, fled NASA for fear of retribution, spoke and wrote publicly for several years afterwards, then worked with my Challenger files for almost two decades until I published my explosive story in book form in 2007.

Thus, 21 years after the disaster, on my retirement from the federal service, I published Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age. Despite a “Starred Review” from Publishers Weekly, the book has been almost completely, probably purposely, ignored by the mainstream media and attacked viciously by the usual shills on the specialty web sites and chat rooms. But I have never backed down from what I had to say.

My book is the only complete account, either in print or the visual media, of one of the signature event of the 20th century. No other treatment has penetrated the multiple layers of cover-up, not only by NASA, but also by the Rogers Commission and Congress, both of which effectively concealed the deeper political causes of the tragedy that made teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe and the other Challenger astronauts not just victims but martyrs.

The newly-formed Rogers Commission, headed by one-time Attorney-General and Secretary of State William Rogers, was taken by surprise when the O-ring documents appeared in print, as NASA had been proclaiming publicly it had no idea what could have gone wrong.

As I learned during the course of the investigation, the Commission itself had been created by the Reagan administration to protect the White House from embarrassing disclosures. The Commission chose to go after the NASA cover-up to the extent of pinning the blame on lower level managers who supposedly failed to communicate to higher-ups that contractor engineers had objected to launching in cold weather.

The Commission also hypocritically boasted it had discovered the “exact cause” of the tragedy—the infamous O-ring joints that they learned NASA had been well aware of up to the highest levels. But in its report the Commission protected the top levels from further scrutiny by making the lower level managers scapegoats. This was done deliberately. In fact deals were made.

The Rogers Commission pursued the same strategy as other high-level inquiries such as the Warren Commission, the Rockefeller Commission, the Tower Commission, and the 9/11 Commission: find someone far down the chain of events on which to pin the blame while the high-level perpetrators go free.

The mainstream press plays their designated role by reporting as expected while the dust of past events settles. Then establishment historians package the bland but dishonest conclusions for future consumption by a posterity they and the perpetrators view only with contempt.

Every presidential commission is charged with hiding something. What then was the Rogers Commission hiding, along with the congressional committees after it, especially since it didn’t take long for them to realize that NASA had known about the flawed O-ring joints in the solid rocket boosters literally for years?

To answer briefly but accurately, the Rogers Commission was hiding the darkness that had enshrouded the U.S. manned space program through takeover of NASA by operatives of President Reagan’s “Star Wars” space weapons program.

These operatives had come out of the “Conservative Movement” that got Reagan elected, such as those with the Committee on the Present Danger that advocated putting the U.S. on a wartime footing against the Soviet Union.

The Conservative Movement was the forerunner of what became today’s Neoconservatives and included many of the same people. One of their “patron saints” was Edward Teller, “father of the hydrogen bomb.” It was these people who were collectively the architects of our current national policy of regime change and perpetual warfare against any nation or entity in the world that does not please us.

The militarization of the space shuttle program was why the O-ring joints had not been fixed—it would have slowed or halted the military launch rate and reduced NASA’s intake of Department of Defense subsidies. Instead, an improved booster rocket design was to be gradually implemented over a two-year period, leaving the shuttle to risk astronauts’ lives by “flying-as-is.”

My book documents that NASA was keeping to itself the fact that solid rocket booster O-ring joint performance was worse in cold weather in order to avoid delays in military missions.

The jig was up when NASA launched Challenger against the recommendations of experts from contractors and its own in-house team due to White House pressure to have Christa McAuliffe in orbit for Reagan’s state-of-the-union message that Tuesday night.

The White House knew NASA was concerned about the weather, but the top managers were unwilling to risk political disfavor. So they decided to cross their fingers and hope for the best. They even told the dissenting engineers not to worry—that if anything went wrong they wouldn’t be blamed. So the cover-up was being planned as an option even before the disaster.

These are not just allegations. These are critical facts that are described and documented in detail only in my book. Names are given and specific sources cited, including the meeting where Commission Chairman William Rogers explained his strategy of making Al McDonald of Morton Thiokol the “hero” of the piece and Larry Mulloy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center the villain. End of story, or so Chairman William Rogers intended.

All other books and articles on the subject, as well as all media productions, including the Discovery Channel’s made-for-TV movie The Challenger Disaster, swallowed the Commission’s line and refused to touch the underlying causes that I set forth. Thus they have all made themselves, intentionally or not, part of the cover-up.[9]

All these treatments have run away from the Reagan mystique, refusing to rock any political boats and sparing their authors retribution.

The Challenger disaster is as pertinent today as when it happened both for the human elements and the policy implications. The grounding of the shuttle fleet for over two years from 1986-8 deprived the “Star Wars” program of its primary testing platform, thereby slowing the weapons-in-space effort until it dissipated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

But crucial is the fact that “Star Wars” marked a radical change in U.S. space policy, because underlying it was a belief by the cabal that controlled Reagan that a nuclear war against the Soviet Union could be won, even if millions of people in both countries lost their lives. The 1986 mission of teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe was Reagan’s sentimental pet project but also a smokescreen to conceal the militarization of space.

But the menace of space weaponry has returned. Now in 2017, with the resurgence of Russia as an excuse, the U.S. has embarked on a new nuclear arms race. Influential journals such as Foreign Affairs and International Security speak of the need for U.S. nuclear supremacy. U.S. abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 has led to a massive attempt to ring Russia with a missile defense system.

This is believed by many to be a plan to prevent Russian retaliation to a U.S. first strike and is an underlying reason for the incorporation of Eastern European nations into NATO.

Meanwhile, reminiscent of “Star Wars” days, the Pentagon has established a Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center in Colorado Springs, with over 22,000 employees. These are working in secrecy but are known to be focusing on future space-based military operations against Russian and China.

Further, even though the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is still in effect, prohibiting weapons of mass destruction from being based in space, any nation can withdraw from that treaty with one year’s notice. Research, planning, and technology development can and is plowing ahead unabated with billions of dollars in contracts being awarded.

A new generation of nuclear weapons is being developed. The difference between now and 1986 is that all space-based military operations will be covert and robotic, including semi-autonomous artificial intelligence devices. An example is the X37-B unmanned space plane currently being flown by the Air Force.

This space plane is a smaller robotic replica of the space shuttle. Unlike Reagan’s “Star Wars” program, humans in space, with the risks and publicity involved, will not be needed.

But contrary to all this, the exploration of space as set forth in NASA’s enabling legislation in 1958 was for peaceful purposes to benefit all mankind. America’s manned space program has virtually disappeared, its original vision a distant dream. Future developmental projects are behind schedule and over budget and may be cancelled.

Instead, we have a monstrous present of planning by military analysts to risk destruction of our own and other nations, and perhaps all of humanity and earth itself, for motives of pride, greed, and fear; i.e., for nothing.

The only beneficiaries of this insanity are the billionaires who are making the space weapons. Commentators foment hatred toward supposed foreign “adversaries” like Russia and China to keep the billionaires in business.

The turning point for the start of this downward spiral was the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986.

Again, only my book Challenger Revealed explains what happened on that terrible day and why it was a harbinger of today’s peril. We now must rise to the vision of a unified world brought to us vividly by the first astronauts in the 1960s who showed us images of earth as a fragile “blue marble” floating quietly in space, home to all terrestrial life and a single human family.

This was also a vision held by teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe. It is a vision held by people who believe in the goodness and promise of life. It is a vision still available if we turn to it for renewal. It is a vision that can raise us to a higher spiritual level than obsession with money, secrecy, power, and war.

But to reach this spiritual level, we have to be able to know and tell the truth. In this regard, the U.S. government has a big problem. Lying has become so habitual among politicians and government officials that truth is not even seen any more as having any real value. Examination of almost any government program or public event discloses varying levels of deception, “spin”, distortion, bias, cover stories, or concealment. A huge amount of government activity, including everything done by the military and the intelligence agencies, is covered under various secrecy statutes for the purposes of so-called “national security.”

The average citizen doesn’t have a clue of what is being done, or even what crimes are being committed, in his name and with his tax dollars. And much more than in the past the news media are in on the game, not only concealing the truth, but making up “fake news” to divert attention.

The propaganda machine is a multi-billion dollar business, with the Pentagon virtually owning Hollywood as it influences producers to churn out garbage films that glorify war and mayhem.  All of this has become much worse in the 30-plus years since the Challenger disaster.

And who benefits from this cesspool? Obviously the military-industrial-intelligence bureaucracy and its millions of employees whose livelihoods depend on the collective insanity.

Then there are the owners of the technology companies who manufacture huge quantities of junk machinery whose only purpose is to kill people of other nations, if in fact it is ever used. And of course there are the politicians, lobbyists, PR flaks, and “spin doctors” whose careers are based on getting voters and taxpayers into a frenzy to continue voting in favor of the people who run a system that lives on human suffering and have a vested interest in producing more of it.

The craziest thing of all is that the U.S. once thought of itself as a Christian nation, and many of the supporters of the political ideology that justifies the madness still do. But where is Jesus in all this today? Where is the religion of love and forgiveness that led to the abolition of slavery and the vision of America as a beacon of peace and harmony in the world?

That vision is almost dead. Instead, we have become a nation of greedy, lying warmongers. The Challenger disaster and its aftermath and cover-ups were a big step toward this abyss, as were events that came before, like the JFK assassination, and those since, like 9-11.

Can any of this be changed? Only if enough individuals make a stand and refuse to go along with the system. Otherwise, I am convinced that this nation is on a path to certain destruction. And given the forces that the rich and powerful are playing with—technology with the power to destroy the planet—such an outcome is likely to happen sooner rather than later.

Jonas E. Alexis: Well said. The rich and powerful want to establish a system in which the moral order plays no role. It is called the New World Order, and our job is to fight that New World Order because it is against the all of mankind.

[1] Richard C. Cook, Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006).

[2] “The man who beat communism,” Economist, June 10, 2004.

[3] Dinesh D’Souza, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader (New York: Touchtone, 1997).

[4] For a historical study on this, see E. Michael Jones, Barren Metal: A History of Capitalism as the Conflict Between Labor and Usury (South Bend: Fidelity Press, 2014).

[5] Andrew Glass, “Reagan fires 11,000 striking air traffic controllers Aug. 5, 1981,” Politico, May 8, 2008.

[6] E. Michael Jones, Barren Metal: A History of Capitalism as the Conflict Between Labor and Usury (South Bend: Fidelity Press, 2014), 1317.

[7] Joseph A. McCartin, “The Strike That Busted Unions,” NY Times, August 2, 2011. McCartin has expanded on this issue in his book Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[8] Philip Rucker, “Scott Walker calls Reagan’s bust of air traffic controller strike ‘most significant foreign policy decision,’” Washington Post, February 28, 2015.

[9] See my review of the Discovery Channel production published on Global Research at


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