Challenger - ENGINEERING ETHICS The Space Shuttle...

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ENGINEERING ETHICS The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering Texas A&M University NSF Grant Number DIR-9012252 Student Handout - Synopsis On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts were killed when the space shuttle they were piloting, the Challenger , exploded just over a minute into flight. The failure of the solid rocket booster O- rings to seat properly allowed hot combustion gases to leak from the side of the booster and burn through the external fuel tank. The failure of the O-ring was attributed to several factors, including faulty design of the solid rocket boosters, insufficient low temperature testing of the O- ring material and the joints that the O-ring sealed, and lack of communication between different levels of NASA management. Organization and People Involved Marshall Space Flight Center - in charge of booster rocket development Larry Mulloy - challenged the engineers' decision not to launch Morton Thiokol - Contracted by NASA to build the Solid Rocket Booster Alan McDonald - Director of the Solid Rocket Motors Project Bob Lund - Engineering Vice President Robert Ebeling - Engineer who worked under McDonald Roger Boisjoly - Engineer who worked under McDonald Joe Kilminster - Engineer in a management position Jerald Mason - Senior Executive who encouraged Lund to reassess his decision not to launch. Key Dates 1974 - Morton-Thiokol awarded contract to build solid rocket boosters. 1976 - NASA accepts Morton-Thiokol's booster design. 1977 - Morton-Thiokol discovers joint rotation problem. November 1981 - O-ring erosion discovered after second shuttle flight. January 24, 1985 - shuttle flight that exhibited the worst O-ring blow-by. July 1985 - Thiokol orders new steel billets for new field joint design. August 19, 1985 - NASA Level I management briefed on booster problem. January 27, 1986 - night teleconference to discuss effects of cold temperature on booster performance. January 28, 1986 - Challenger explodes 72 seconds after liftoff. Background
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NASA managers were anxious to launch the Challenger for several reasons, including economic considerations, political pressures, and scheduling backlogs. Unforeseen competition from the European Space Agency put NASA in a position where it would have to fly the shuttle dependably on a very ambitious schedule in order to prove the Space Transportation System's cost effectiveness and potential for commercialization. This prompted NASA to schedule a record number of missions in 1986 to make a case for its budget requests. The shuttle mission just prior to the Challenger had been delayed a record number of times due to inclement weather and mechanical factors. NASA wanted to launch the Challenger without any delays so the launch pad could be refurbished in time for the next mission, which would be carrying a probe that would examine Halley's Comet. If launched on time, this probe would have collected data a few days before a similar Russian probe would be launched. There was probably also pressure to launch Challenger
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