Mounting Safety Concerns at NASA

(Washington-AP) -- The space program has been plagued by shortages of key experts, tight budgets and mounting safety concerns.

A trail of reports by congressional auditors, outside panels and NASA retirees outlines the situation. NASA critics both in and outside the government and investigators of the space shuttle's disintegration yesterday are sure to comb the reports for anything that might explain the tragedy.

For example, the investigative arm of Congress found in 2001 that NASA's shuttle work force had declined to the point of reducing the agency's ability to safely support the program.

The G.A.O. said many key areas were not sufficiently staffed and the rest of the work force showed signs of overwork and fatigue.

In a warning in April, a panel of outside experts expressed "the strongest safety concern" about the shuttle program in 15 years.