NASA Manager Resigning Over Columbia Disaster

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The NASA (search) manager who oversaw space shuttle Columbia's faulty external tank has been removed in the continuing fallout from the shuttle disaster.

Jerry Smelser, external-tank project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (search), was reassigned a month ago, at his request, and will retire at the end of the year, said Dave King, Marshall director.

Investigators concluded that Smelser used erroneous information to argue in favor of a previous shuttle launch. The bad information appeared to be an "honest mistake" and not a deliberate attempt to cover up years of problems with Marshall-managed tanks, King said Wednesday.

Smelser, now serving as an adviser to the shuttle programs office at Marshall, did not immediately return a call for comment.

King said Marshall engineers were wrong to push for a shuttle launch last year even though they knew foam had come off a particularly troublesome area of the external tank.

The Columbia (search) accident investigation board concluded foam came off the same spot during Columbia's launch in January, hitting the shuttle's left wing and causing damage that led to its breakup over Texas on Feb. 1.