The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Essay

2863 words - 11 pages

1.0 Introduction

Seventy three seconds into its 10th flight, on January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean, killing the seven crew members on board [1]. The Challenger was the second space shuttle constructed by NASA and had completed nine successful missions prior to the disaster. Following the accident, the shuttle program was suspended for 32 months as President Ronald Regan appointed a Commission, chaired by William P. Rogers and known as the Rogers Commission, to investigate the cause of the accident [1].
The analysis in this report will include a summary of the sequence of events leading up to the disaster, analysis of the professional ethical behaviours and responsibilities that were compromised, and finally the lessons learned and recommendations to avoid such future disasters.
2.0 Sequence of Events

The Challenger space shuttle was originally scheduled to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center on January 22, 1986; however, due to delays with the previous mission, issues with the weather, and failure of some mechanical and electrical components, the launch was delayed until January 28, 1986 [2].

The forecast, however, predicted a cold morning with temperatures of -1°C, which according to technical specifications, was the lowest permissible temperature for launch. The cold temperature caused concern for two of the shuttle’s primary contractors, Morton Thiokol and Rockwell International, as the launch structure was covered with ice and the joint design in the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) was suspected to perform poorly in cold temperatures [2].

In the mid-1980’s, the shuttle space program was the focus of the political media since it had failed to deliver on its expectations [2]. In order for NASA to promote the efficiency of the new space shuttle Orbiter system, it had planned many missions for 1986, of which the Challenger launch was the first [2]. At the time, NASA’s goal was two reach two launches per month, a goal that well exceeded the budget and training facilities available [2].

The night before the launch, a teleconference between Thiokol and NASA was held to address the concerns regarding the performance of the SRB O-ring seal in cold weather. Thiokol recommended that the launch be postponed since there was no data available for temperatures below 53°F [2]. After internal discussions in the Thiokol group, senior management eventually endorsed the launch, recommending it to proceed, reversing their original decision [2].

Rockwell, the shuttle’s primary contractor, did not support the launch due to the possibility of ice leaving the structure and damaging the thermal shield tiles during takeoff. Their concerns were relayed to NASA, but in such a way that NASA chose to proceed with the launch [2]. Though this was eventually determined to be a non-issue in the Challenger launch, the true nature of the problems that can occur when an object strikes the shuttle during...

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