The space shuttle Challenger disaster is one of the most tragic historical moments in the USA. On 28th January 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger Mission STS 51-L exploded after one minute and thirteen seconds after liftoff. This led to a series of investigation to establish the possible cause of the accident. A presidential commission was formed, and together with other investigative agencies, they investigated the possible causes of the explosion of the space shuttle. Based on the consensus of the investigative agencies and the commission, the blast was primarily caused by both technical and ethical issues.
The primary cause of the explosion of the space shuttle was the failure of the O-ring that is located in the starboard solid rocket booster. After analyzing the video evidence that was gathered, the commission found out that smoke came from the region of the aft field joint (Logsdon, 2009). Logsdon observed that the composition of the smoke and the dense color on the video clip suggested that hot propellant gases burned the grease, rubber O-rings in the joint and insulation (2009). The failure of the pressure seal was accredited to the faulty design which was highly sensitive to numerous factors. As identified by the presidential commission, these factors entailed effects of temperature, features of the materials, processing and reaction of joints to dynamic loading, and physical dimension ("Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster," 2005). The O-ring lost is resiliency due to the cold weather, causing the aft field joint of the solid to explode.
The explosion of the space shuttle was also contributed by work ethics of the people who were maintaining the shuttle. One of the main ethical factors was the flaws in the decision-making process. Based on the weather condition, the space bus ought not to have been allowed to launch. According to the findings of the presidential commission, the waiving of the launch constraints seems to have been at the expense of flight safety. Based on the report, it was crystal clear that decisions should have been made to prevent the occurrence of the accident, but the management failed to make the call. The decision was made without looking into the behavioral history of the O-rings and the joint in relation to different weather conditions and it dismissed the recommendation that was made by the contractor that the shuttle should not be launched at temperatures lower than 53 degrees Fahrenheit. The launching decision was not also unanimous since engineers at Thiokol were against the shuttle being released at a temperature lower than 53 F, but their concerns were ignored by the management. The commission also learnt that NASA's safety staff was not mentioned to have played a role in the entire evaluation. It was quite startling that there was no documentation of quality assurance attending any meeting about the accident.
The Presidential Commission made several changes on the space shuttle that would prevent such accident from happening again. They recommended that the faulty seal and solid rocket motor joint to be modified to so that they can operate in all weather conditions. The commission also suggested that the management program structure of the shuttle should also be overhauled. The safeguards should also be constantly maintained.
Logsdon, J. M. (2009). Truths, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. Space Policy, 25(4), 269-269. doi: 10.1016/j.spacepol.2009.09.002
The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. (2005). Issues in Business Ethics, 107-153. doi:10.1007/1-4020-2980-2_7
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