NASA’s Greatest Downfall: The Challenger Disaster
It was a freezing morning on January 28, 1986. Many spectators were waiting anxiously to witness the liftoff of the Challenger space shuttle’s 25th mission. These spectators included thousands of students because Christa McAuliffe was to be the first teacher in space. Tragically, only 73 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger split apart resulting in the death of all 7 members on board. There is evidence that NASA was aware of issues that could have potentially complicated the scheduled liftoff, but NASA fatally decided to proceed with the mission. Because of NASA’s negligence and the loss of 7 lives, the Challenger mission of January 1986 was one of the greatest failures of NASA.
The Challenger experienced multiple delays before finally launching on January 28th. During the week of January 26th, the rescheduled liftoff after 5 delays, temperature projections were unusually low ranging from 26 degrees to 29 degrees in Florida where the shuttle launching was to take place (Robison et al 62). This created concern for NASA and Morton Thiokol, the company where the rocket boosters for the Challenger were made, regarding the functionality of the rocket boosters. Morton Thiokol engineers cautioned the company to delay the launch, so they contacted NASA and explained their concerns. Eager to accomplish the launch, NASA asked Morton Thiokol to reassess the issues. Morton Thiokol and NASA had a meeting, with exclusion of the engineers, regarding the low temperatures. Without the engineers’ vocal opinions in the meeting, the managers of Morton Thiokol consented for NASA to proceed with the launch of Challenger on January (Robison et al 62). However, the scheduled launch was once again delayed due to mechanical issues, so it was finally rescheduled for January 28th (Kelly et al).
The minimum temperature in which the rocket boosters were able to function was 53 degrees (Robison et al 62). Approximately 6 months prior to the liftoff, Roger Boisjoly, an engineer at Morton Thiokol, noted that extremely low temperatures could result in catastrophe. Boisjoly’s warnings were unheeded (“Roger Boisjoly, Engineer). By January 28th, temperatures had dropped to the low 30s (McDonad). Despite the warnings of possible issues for the liftoff, the shuttle launched as planned at 11:38 am. During the short flight, devastation overcame the crew, NASA, and America. At .678 seconds, “Film developed later shows the first evidence of abnormal black smoke appearing slightly above the suspect O-ring joint in Challenger's right-hand solid rocket booster” (Harwood and Navias). This was the first sign of malfunction. At 5.674 seconds, the second abnormal sign occurred: “Internal pressure in the right-side booster is recorded as 11.8 pounds per square inch higher than normal” (Harwood and Navias). At 58.788 seconds, another abnormality with the right hand rocket booster is noted. This continued to 59 seconds and is “clear evidence...