Suit Claims Bad Bolts Doomed Columbia

CAPE CANAVERAL -- A Delaware company is suing a competing NASA contractor, alleging defective bolts -- not foam -- doomed shuttle Columbia.

Hi-Shear Technology Corp., which made the booster-rocket connecting bolts for shuttles before Columbia's final launch last year, last week sued the company that replaced it, Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Co.

Hi-Shear alleges that the new company was handed its exclusive technology. They also say that the new company's bolts, eight of which attach the twin solid rocket boosters to the orange fuel tank, did not work as designed during Columbia's launch.

About two minutes after launch, the assembly explodes to split the bolts in half, releasing the boosters.

NASA discounted the lawsuit's allegation that bolts had anything to do with the pizza-sized hole in the left wing that allowed Columbia to break up during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.

The agency said the Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined the bolts and related "bolt catcher" did not cause the disaster.

"We have total confidence after a seven-month investigation that the CAIB was right," Kennedy Space Center spokesman Mike Rein said. "They conducted a very thorough investigation."

"There are a lot of things that are unsatisfying about the CAIB investigation," said Hal Litchford, the Orlando attorney who filed the lawsuits in Brevard County on behalf of Hi-Shear.

United Space Alliance said it could not comment other than saying they were based on "unfounded" accusations.

"We deny any allegation that we endangered the astronauts or the shuttle vehicle," said Kari Fluegel, a local spokeswoman for the company that maintains and prepares shuttles for flight. "We stand behind the CAIB report and we will continue to address the issues raised by their review as we return to flight next spring."

Published under license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2004 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

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John Kelly is the director of data journalism for ABC-owned TV stations at Walt Disney Television. An investigative reporter and data journalist, John covered space exploration, NASA and aerospace as a reporter for Florida Today for 11 years, four of those on the Space Reporter beat. John earned a journalism degree from the University of Kentucky and wrote for the Shelbyville News and Associated Press before joining Florida Today's space team. In 2013, John joined the data investigation team at USA Today and became director of data journalism there in 2018 before joining Disney in 2019. John is a two-time winner of the Edward R. Murrow award in 2020 and 2021, won a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2020 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting in 2017. You can follow John on Twitter.