The Challenger Disaster Explained

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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. Th... ... middle of paper ... ...mpanies. The Structural Test Article simulated pressure on the vertical components during launch. After testing, Marshall concluded that the gap size was sufficient for both of the O-rings to be out of position. Again Thiokol rebutted Marshall’s claim by challenging the validity of the electrical components used to measure joint rotation. Thiokol believed that their test was superior to Marshall’s test, because it validated their conclusion. This is a fundamental problem know as experimenter’s regress. Since the true solution is unknown, the best test is the one that supports the experimenter’s view. Since this disagreement could not be solved between the two, the O-ring manufacturer was consulted. The manufacturer told the two that the O-ring was not designed for such high project specifications needed for the craft, but NASA decided to work with what they had.
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