Richard C. Cook (born October 20, 1946) is a former U.S. federal government analyst, who was instrumental in exposing White House cover-ups regarding the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986. As a witness to the incident and a participant in the subsequent investigations, Cook provided key documents to The New York Times and testified before the Rogers Commission.
In 1990, he received the Cavallo Foundation Award for Moral Courage in Business and Government for his testimony. In 2007, his memoirs of the tragedy were published in a book entitled, Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age.
As a Policy Analyst for the U.S. Government from 1970 until 1986, Cook's career included service with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the White House Consumer Office, and NASA. From 1986 until 2007, Cook served as a Project Manager for the U.S. Treasury Department, Financial Management Service (FMS).
Now retired from 32-years of government service, Cook works as a writer and private consultant with particular focus on Monetary Reform. His articles on economics, politics, and space policy have been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and websites, and have been translated into several languages. A leading spokesman for Economic Democracy, Cook's most recent book, We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform was published in 2009. He is also author of In the Footsteps of the Yogi: The 1999 U.S. Tour of Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj, and was recently named the U.S. director for White Light Books, a company based in Australia that focuses on the merging of public affairs with world spiritual currents.
As a Resource Analyst at NASA's Comptroller's Office, Cook was responsible for assessing the budgetary implications of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), External Tank, and Centaur Upper Stage of the Space Shuttle program. In July 1985, Cook performed background research on the SRBs to determine whether any engineering questions would require additional funding that should be included in NASA's next budget. After consulting with engineers in the Office of Space Flight in Washington, D.C., Cook wrote a memo to Michael Mann which summarized some problems with the SRB O-rings:
There is little question, however, that flight safety has been and is still being compromised by potential failure of the seals, and it is acknowledged that failure during launch would certainly be catastrophic. There is also indication that staff personnel knew of this problem sometime in advance of management's becoming apprised of what was going on.
NASA officials ignored the memo which detailed engineering concerns and warnings from the shuttle builders at Morton Thiokol regarding a potentially catastrophic flaw in the SRB O-rings. On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its launch, killing all seven of its crew members.
Despite their certainty of O-ring joint inadequacies as early as 1977, NASA launched an investigation to “discover” the cause of the disaster. According to Cook, the Ronald Reagan administration appointed the Rogers Commission to perpetrate the same cover-up. In response, Cook provided the original O-ring warning documents to the New York Times. The resulting news article initiated a series of disclosures regarding events that led to the disaster, including revelations by Morton Thiokol engineers that they had tried to stop the launch. These reports proved significant in predicting that faulty rubber seals on the solid fuel rockets might trigger a catastrophe, as the official investigations eventually concluded.
Cook received the Cavallo Foundation's Award for Moral Courage in Business and Government for helping to uncover the facts about the faulty O-ring seals that led the shuttle's solid rocket boosters to fail. He concludes that rather than an accident, the disaster was the result of NASA's autocratic management style and closed-door decision-making process. Documentation further suggests the Rogers Commission was conceived as part of a cover-up effort, including collusion by some NASA managers, White House operatives and commission head William P. Rogers.
In his memoir and personal investigation, Cook documents technical evidence about violations of launch criteria, and telephone calls between NASA and the White House. He suggests that by focusing solely on equipment malfunctions and internal NASA decision making, the Rogers Commission evaded the most important question: Why was it so important to those in power to launch the shuttle on that particular day?
Though the Rogers Commission denied it, Cook maintains the Ronald ReaganAdministration pushed hard for NASA to launch shuttle mission 51L against engineers’ recommendations so that "Teacher-in-Space" Christa McAuliffe would be aloft in time for the president's 1986 State of the Union Address. It was likely that Reagan wanted teacher Christine McAuliffe in orbit aboard Challenger so he could speak with her live during his televised speech that night. Cook further suggests that NASA failed to fix the O-ring problem to avoid delaying shuttle flights that were to be launched with military payloads for the U.S. Air Force.
As a former U.S. Treasury Department analyst, Cook has authored We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform proposing a series of measures to transform the dominance of a debt-based monetary system into one aligned more closely with the physical economy's productive values.
- Challenger Revealed: An Insider's Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006)
- We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (Tendril Press, 2008–2009)
- In the Footsteps of the Yogi: The 1999 U.S. Tour of Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj(Authorhouse, 2001)
- Return of the Aeons: The Planetary Spiritual Ascension (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, February 2013))