WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher, on his first day on the job, announced the appointment today of the former head of the Apollo moon program to review the overall management of the beleaguered space agency as it tries to recover from the Challenger disaster.
Fletcher made the surprise announcement at the opening of a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing called less than 24 hours after he was sworn in to lead NASA out of its greatest crisis.
The new NASA administrator said retired Air Force Gen. Samuel Phillips will form a group "to take a look at the entire agency and revisit how NASA manages its programs with an eye to improving this management technique."
"It's going to be done in depth," Fletcher told the committee headed by Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.). "I think that needs to be done."
Phillips, then a lieutenant general in the Air Force, was in charge of Project Apollo from 1964 through man's first landing on the moon in July, 1969.
Fletcher said that other members of Phillips' group have not yet been announced but that he expects the review to take six to eight months.
In an opening statement, Boland said reports critical of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since the shuttle accident indicate that "something is out of kilter" within the agency.
"I feel that something has gone terribly awry," he said, warning Fletcher that NASA has to get its "house in order" or the subcommittee would withhold funds for new NASA projects.
Fletcher responded by saying he is "very appalled and disappointed at how the press has treated NASA" in the months since the Challenger accident. He conceded that the agency has made mistakes, but said news reports on the agency have dwelt on the errors and seem to have forgotten the accomplishments of the first 25 years of the space program.
"This is the same agency that placed 12 men on the moon. Landed them safely and brought them back," he said.
Fletcher appeared before the committee to discuss the NASA budget for the next fiscal year. He said it may take another two or three weeks before the Reagan Administration can provide even a "rough cut" of the spending changes that will be required because of the accident.
Fletcher was sworn as NASA administrator Monday and at a news conference that followed said he will give priority to reviewing the agency's much-criticized decision-making process. (Story, Page 10.)