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Challenger — Why Now?
On-line Opinion Magazine…OK, it's a blog
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January 28, 1986

Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF

Michael J. Smith, Commander, USN

Mission Specialist:
Judith A. Resnik
Ronald E. McNair
Ellison S. Onizuka, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF

Payload Specialist:
Gregory B. Jarvis
Sharon Christa McAuliffe


1 ellroon { 01.28.08 at 1:26 am }

Looking at the photos of the explosion still makes me feel so sad, as if we somehow betrayed the triumphant expectations of the astronauts and the scientists. Was it hubris to think we could continue to send people up into orbit without occasionally paying the price?

Has it really been that long ago?

2 Kryten42 { 01.28.08 at 3:59 am }

Was it hubris to think we could continue to send people up into orbit without occasionally paying the price?

No. It was arrogance and stupidity to think that NASA would make sound scientific and engineering decisions rather than Political ones. It was a disaster waiting to happen, sadly.

What really amazed and surprised me (though in hindsight it shouldn’t have) was that NASA didn’t go out of their way to ensure the success of such a public mission. It was just “business as usual”. I suppose, after a while, they really believed they had beaten the odds. I don’t know what they thought, maybe they didn’t think much at all.

NASA managers had known that contractor Morton Thiokol’s design of the SRBs contained a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings since 1977, but they failed to address it properly. They also ignored warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching on such a cold day and had failed to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors. The Rogers Commission offered NASA nine recommendations that were to be implemented before shuttle flights resumed.

Forecasts for January 28 predicted an unusually cold morning, with temperatures close to 31 °F (−0.5 °C), the minimum temperature permitted for launch. The low temperature had prompted concern from engineers at Morton Thiokol, the contractor responsible for the construction and maintenance of the shuttle’s SRB. At a teleconference which took place on the evening of January 27, Thiokol engineers and managers discussed the weather conditions with NASA managers from Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center. Several engineers—most notably Roger Boisjoly, who had voiced similar concerns previously—expressed their concern about the effect of the temperature on the resilience of the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints of the SRBs. They argued that if the O-rings were colder than 53 °F (approximately 11.7 °C), there was no guarantee they would seat properly. This was an important consideration, since the O-rings had been designated as a “Criticality 1” component—meaning that there was no backup for them and their failure would destroy Challenger and its crew. They also argued that the low overnight temperatures would almost certainly result in SRB temperatures below their redline of 40 °F. However, they were overruled by Morton Thiokol management, who recommended that the launch proceed as scheduled.

Wikipedia: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

And so, the bureaucrats strike again and Politics and capitalism wins the day over common sense, due diligence and professionalism (and many other outdated concepts, like truth and honesty).

3 Bryan { 01.28.08 at 3:38 pm }

People don’t tend to work very well at those temperatures, and the Air Force warms aircraft before starting engines below 40° to ensure the hydraulics will function properly, but they were pushing for on time take offs.

The crew was “PR’d” to death. PR was more important than flight safety.