Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on the Deliberate Destruction of the Delta Rocket
May 4, 1986 Daylight time, 7:18 a.m. Tokyo time this morning, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, a Delta rocket carrying a geostationary operational environmental satellite -- GOES, which is a meteorological satellite -- was launched. NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] has indicated that the satellite was destroyed because of a premature main liquid fuel engine shutdown. The shutdown began at approximately 71 seconds into the flight and concluded at 76 seconds. The loss of the main engine resulted in the loss of control of the Delta vehicle, and the range-destruct signal was given at approximately 91 seconds into the flight. This was done because the system was still under thrust by the solid-rocket booster. At this point of destruction, the vehicle was about 8.5 miles in altitude. Delta rocket liftoff results when six one-piece solid motor strap-on rockets are fired along with the main liquid fuel engine. The solid rockets are manufactured by Morton Thiokol and the main rocket by Rocketdyne, Incorporated. The vehicle itself was produced by McDonnell Douglas.
At 63 seconds into the flight, three separate solid rockets were to fire, and data indicates that they did fire and that they were burning properly. The ignition comes at 8 seconds after the initial six solids burned out. All of this sequencing appears to have been normal; however, the main engine should have burned until approximately 120 seconds into the flight. As I said, the shutdown was experienced at 71 seconds into the flight, and the destruct was given at 91 seconds into the flight.
The President was informed shortly after the explosion by Chief of Staff Don Regan by telephone. He was awake and reading morning news reports and national security information at the time. The President directed members of his Tokyo party to get in immediate touch with NASA officials in Washington and at Cape Canaveral. The President said he would like to have all information provided to him on a regular basis throughout the day. The Delta rocket has been the mainstay of the U.S. space program for 26 years. There have been 177 prior launches at a 94-percent success rate. The last prior failure of a Delta rocket came on September 13, 1977, when one of the solid strap-ons failed.
Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters at approximately 10:58 a.m. in the Heian Room at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, Japan.