The Challenger Disaster Explained Essay

1250 words - 5 pages


The Challenger disaster of 1986 was a shock felt around the country. During liftoff, the shuttle exploded, creating a fireball in the sky. The seven astronauts on board were killed and the shuttle was obliterated. Immediately after the catastrophe, blame was spread to various people who were in charge of creating the shuttle and the parts of the shuttle itself. The Presidential Commission was decisive in blaming the disaster on a faulty O-ring, used to connect the pieces of the craft. On the other hand, Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, in The Golem at Large, believe that blame cannot be isolated to any person or reason of failure. The authors prove that there are too many factors to decide concretely as to why the Challenger exploded. Collins and Pinch do believe that it was the organizational culture of NASA and Morton Thiokol that allowed the disaster. While NASA and Thiokol were deciding whether to launch, there was not a concrete reason to postpone the mission.
Collins and Pinch draw a distinctive line between what actually happened and the public’s perspective on what happened. The public had a compulsive desire to create a moral lesson and provide heroes and villains. Many people misconstrued this as a conflict between the knowledgeable engineers and the greedy management. The public believed that NASA and Thiokol’s managers were ignorant to the engineering, but this is not true, since they were all engineers before their promotion to management. The authors stress the phrase “after the event” to show that hindsight bias is contributing to the public’s view on what actually happened. The physicist, Richard Feynman, awed the public with a demonstration of putting rubber, the material of the O-ring, in icy water. This caused the rubber to become stiff, making it lose its resiliency. Feynman gave such a simplistic reason as to why the shuttle crashed, understating all of the complexities of building a shuttle. The engineers did, in fact, know that cold temperatures would hinder the O-rings functionality as a seal. They just did not know how much of an effect the temperature would have on the craft. The engineers and managers, at the time, believed that it was an acceptable risk.
Risk is impossible to eliminate. The O-ring is supposed to seal, but according to Marshall’s Larry Wear, “There are no perfect, zero-leak seals”. Designing a perfect O-ring is infeasible. The engineers have to choose what is mostly likely to cause the shuttle to fail. The professionals do not have the foresight to see the impending disaster. Creating a design for the worst case scenario is not practical, because it does not consider the budgetary issues. When such an expensive project is developed, there are always fiscal and scheduling issues. This was the most delayed shuttle launch in NASA history, because of the many problems during construction. This debate over acceptable risk could not be perpetual, so the engineers were forced to decide how much...

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