The Review of the Challenger Disaster
Thirty-four years have passed since the world was stunned by the fatal space accident which occurred in the US. However, the disaster is still fresh in people’s minds, and everyone remembers those terrible footages of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. It took the lives of seven crew members and became one of the most horrific tragedies which have ever occurred in the history of space exploration. This essay aims to discuss the Challenger Disaster and consider the details of the mission. It will examine the reasons why the mission was conducted despite the warnings of engineers. The ways of preventing such situations in the future will also be explored.
A large part of the American population was watching the launch on television, but no one expected this tragic outcome. The reason for the mission’s popularity partly consisted in the presence of a teacher on board who was to provide the first lesson from the spacecraft. The mission’s goals also included the observation of Hailey’s Comet and tracking satellites, but they were not achieved because of the accident. The launch was postponed several times due to bad weather conditions and finally was performed on a cold morning, January 28. An engineer, named Roger Boisjoly, along with other colleagues alerted the space agency about the dangers involved in launching the spacecraft and tried to stop the space mission. At the teleconference before the fatal launch, Boisjoly warned that the weather was not appropriate and that the ice could damage the shuttle (Lighthall, 2016). Unfortunately, these concerns were disregarded, and the mission control committee performed the launch anyway. As a result, the spacecraft exploded shortly after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board (Thomson, 2015). The problem was that there was no escape system, and the astronauts could not bail out of the shuttle when the breakup started.
Later, the footage and the rocket were examined in order to find out what had caused the explosion. Investigators reported that it was the faulty design of O-rings — rubber seals that separated the rocket boosters — that led to the explosion (Gill, 2017). According to engineers, the O-rings had not made a perfect seal, because of the low temperature, and the fuel had blown through (Gill, 2017). However, the reasons for the accident lay not only in technical problems. It is also worth mentioning that NASA was considered a credible and respectful organization, so it was given a blank check in making decisions. That is why its managers tended to leave the concerns of engineers unattended.
The reason why the launch was performed in spite of all the cautions lies in flaws in the decision-making process. The Rogers Commission, which was established by President Ronald Reagan to investigate the accident, interviewed managers and engineers at NASA and Morton Thiokol, the producer of the solid rocket booster (Braun, 2015). They reported that there was a lack of communication between organizations which led to such consequences. As a result, the concerns about the weather conditions and the O-rings had not reached the people who were to make the decision. In addition, for some reason, the agency was anxious to start the mission without delay. That year NASA had an ambitious launch plan and wanted to demonstrate that it could perform launches frequently and reliably. Hence, they ignored the recommendations of the engineers and decided to start the mission at any price.
Another factor that influenced the decision to launch Challenger, by all means, was the achievement of the publicity goals. The Challenger’s crew included a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, on board. She was to give a lesson from orbit on the fourth day of the mission. As it was already mentioned, the launch took place on Tuesday, and the broadcast of the lesson was supposed to be on Friday. The delay meant that the lesson would be provided only on Saturday when there were no students in school. As such, the government did not want to postpone the mission as it would disrupt their plans.
In addition, the O-ring problem had not been taken seriously. This happened because the engineers had not had enough time before the teleconference to make correct calculations or conduct experiments properly. When the call resumed, the senior manager sharply criticized the engineers for their bad performance. Under bureaucratic and political pressure, the group of engineers decided to allow launching Challenger. If the technical people had had more time to prepare their report, they could have gotten their point to the government and prevented the catastrophe.
It appears that the culprit of the poor decision, which led to the catastrophe, was NASA and its imperfect management. It is the result of organizational failure and negligence on the part of the government (Garrett, 2017). The agency violated safety rules and ignored the recommendations of the technical people to abort the mission. This carelessness resulted in a tragedy that took the lives of seven astronauts and ruined the lives of their families. If NASA had taken the engineer’s warnings seriously and canceled or delayed the launch, they would have lost much money, but this cost cannot be compared to the cost of people’s lives.
It is obvious that the accident happened due to the flaws in the NASA organization and management. In this respect, some recommendations can be given, which can help to prevent similar failures in the future. First of all, the NASA organization should undergo serious changes. One of the possible solutions is to flatten the organizational hierarchy and establish a network organization, which has proved to be a useful structure. NASA management should not make important decisions that could put their jobs at risk. Secondly, engineers should be able to get their ideas across to the government and exert an impact on the decision-making process. Moreover, there should be a way for them to bypass formal bureaucratic procedures in special cases. What concerns technical advice, the Rogers Commission proposed NASA to create some escape systems. Such systems could allow astronauts to jump out of a shuttle before the crash and survive.
In conclusion, the Challenger Disaster is one of the greatest catastrophes that has ever happened in the history of spaceflights. It has proved that it is of paramount importance to observe safety precautions, especially in such large and risky undertakings as space missions. Space organizations should always remember that negligence and irresponsibility are unacceptable when people’s lives are at stake. The situation with the Challenger explosion should serve as an illustrative example of what must be avoided in the future. Such tragedies should not be forgotten as they remember people about the importance of following the safety rules and show that the warnings from specialists should not be disregarded.
Braun, E. (2015). Fatal Faults: The Story of the Challenger Explosion. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.
Garrett, T. (2017). Katrina, Rita, Challenger and Columbia: Operationalizing a Knowledge Analytic in NASA and DHS Crises. Public Voices, 10(1), 23—35.
Gill, N. (2017). STS-51L: Reflecting Upon the Failed Engineering of the Challenger Disaster. International Journal of Sciences, 6(08), 58—61.
Lighthall, F. (2016). Disastrous High-Tech Decision Making: From Disasters to Safety. Indianapolis, IN: Kilburn Sackett Press.
Thomson, J. (2015). High Integrity Systems and Safety Management in Hazardous Industries. UK, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.