Billy T. Thornton Accused Of Pencil-Whipping Shuttle
While government witnesses said a NASA inspector falsified
inspection results in his work on the space shuttle Discovery,
defense lawyers pointed to what they called massive confusion about
how those inspections were supposed to be carried out. The trial
continues Wednesday in Orlando.
Billy T. Thornton, 54, was accused a year
ago of falsifying 83 inspection reports on Discovery between
October 2002 and May 2003. Tuesday, NASA supervisors
and contractors testified they saw the reports, but never saw
Thornton actually perform.
Keith Folsom, a senior aerospace inspector for United Space
Alliance (a NASA shuttle contractor) testified Thornton signed off
on a shuttle wiring harness inspection in 2002 -- without noticably
"He just did not go around and look at the [wiring] harnesses
that were exposed and open," Folsom testified, according to the
Orlando Sentinel. Instead, Folsom said, Thornton was "just
basically sitting around" in the shuttle.
But when cross-examined, Folsom admitted he didn't share his
concerns about Thornton until well over a year later.
"I thought it was [Thornton's] prerogative to do it however he
wanted to," Folsom said. It was only after the shuttle Columbia
disintegrated on re-entry in 2003 that Folsom spoke up, he
testified. That's when he told NASA officials that "too many
inspections" just weren't being done.
When cross-examining government witnesses on Tuesday, defense
attorney Alan Diamond consistently asked about confusion over
inspection policies at NASA.
"In general, has there been a lot of confusion out at KSC?"
Diamond asked NASA quality-assurance supervisor Robert Nagy.
"There has been a lot of interpretation," Nagy said in an exchange
quoted by the Sentinel.
Adding to the confusion, Thornton's immediate supervisor, Robert
Saulnier, testified the embattled inspector had been the recipient
of performance awards in 2001 and 2003. In 2003, Thornton was
awarded a $500 performance bonus.
"I did not put him in for that," Saulnier told the court when he
was being cross-examined by defense attorney Kepler Funk. He
did, however, admit that he had given Thornton an evaluation
concluding that his work "meets expectations."
At the same time, Saulnier said he once proposed suspending
Thornton for behaving unprofessionally in his dealings with some