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The Challenger Disaster Responsibility Of Morton Thiokol Inc.

1245 words - 5 pages

The Challenger disaster was not only a disaster in terms of the destruction of the spacecraft and the death of its crew but also in terms of the decision-making process that led to the launch and in terms of the subsequent investigation into the "causes" of the disaster. The decision to recommend for launch was made by lower-level management officials over the objections of technical experts who opposed the launch under the environmental conditions that existed on the launch pad at the time. Furthermore, the lower-level managers who made this decision--both NASA and contractor personnel--chose not to report the objections of the technical experts in their recommendations to higher levels in the management chain- of-command to proceed with the launch. Finally, it seems that the lower-level managers had also received out-of-the-ordinary pressure from higher levels of management (some allusions suggested this pressure may have come all the way from the White House) to proceed with the launch on time. The subsequent investigation began with efforts to determine the technical causes of the explosion of the Challenger. Initially, the decision-making process leading to the launch was not considered by investigators. This suggests that the initial purpose of the investigation was not concerned with ethical issues or issues of responsibility. As the investigation proceeded, information emerged through leaks to the press, which suggested that NASA had been aware of the risk of explosion under the environmental conditions that existed for the Challenger launch for several months prior to the launch. Also, the opposition of the technical experts to the launch just prior to the decision to launch became known to the investigators as well. These two pieces of information changed the nature of the investigation mid-stream from an effort to determine the technical cause of the explosion of the spacecraft to an investigation of the
decision-making process leading to the launch. Viewing the Challenger disaster as an ethical problem would lead to an effort to determine whether the decision to launch was "right" or "wrong." Clearly, the explosion was an accident. It was an accident that might have been prevented or anticipated but the decision to launch was clearly a matter of judgment--albeit of apparently poor judgment in retrospect--rather than a matter of "rightness" or "wrongness." As such, an examination of the Challenger disaster as an ethical problem does little to illuminate the issue. A more appropriate ethical analysis would seek to understand the ways in which the decision-making process itself fostered or hindered responsibility among individuals within the organization and of the organization itself. In this respect, when viewed as a problem of responsibility, the Challenger disaster presents a much more insightful lesson on the nature of decision-making in a large organization such as NASA. While it...

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