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Although Morton Thiokol will remain NASA's partner in the space shuttle program well into the next decade, that's not good enough for John Thirkill.

Thirkill, vice president and general manager for Morton Thiokol's Space Division, said his company is interested in staying involved in the shuttle program a lot longer than that."I don't want to belittle the business we're going to get," Thirkill said. "Serving as NASA's sole source supplier for shuttle's booster rockets for another 10 years is a good thing, but clearly it won't sustain this company for the long run. We need to do something to assure something for this company after 10 years."

Make no mistake, Thirkill said, Morton Thiokol isn't happy with NASA's decision to build a new government-owned facility preferably somewhere along the Gulf Coast to manufacture the next generation of space shuttle booster rockets. "NASA understands we will argue about its decision to try and position ourselves more favorably. We'd at least like to be considered."

He also said NASA is crying wolf when it says a state-of-the-art booster manufacturing facility doesn't exist. "Our facility isn't as archaic as people would like to make you think. Sure it was dedicated 30 years ago, but it's undergone significant modernization since then," he said.

Thirkill discounts NASA's claims that a new facility have both rail and water transport capability. "How much is water transport capability worth?" he asked. It makes more sense economically to build the new larger boosters right here in Utah, he said.

He admits relations between Morton Thiokol and NASA are bound to be a little bit strained in light of the space agency's announced intentions, but he doesn't see that interfering with getting the shuttle program flying again. "Everyone understands the importance," he said.

Despite recent bad tidings, Thirkill remains bullish on Morton Thiokol's future.