Challenger - THE CHALLENGER DISASTER65 On the space shuttle...

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THE CHALLENGER DISASTER65 On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger rose into the sky, its seven crew strapped into their padded seats while the 2,OOO-ton vehicle vibrated as it gained speed and altitude. The launch was going perfectly. Seventy seconds had passed since liftoff and the shuttle was already 50,000 feet above the earth. From Mission Control at Houston's Johnson Space Center, Spacecraft Communicator Richard Covey instructed "Challenger go at throttle up." "Roger, go at throttle up," replied Commander Dick Scobee on board Challenger. But in the next few seconds Challenger slammed through increasingly violent manoeuvres. [Pilot] Mike Smith voiced sudden apprehension. "Uh-oh." In Mission Control, the pulsing digits on the screen abruptly stopped ... Mission Control spokesman Steve Nesbitt sat above the four console tiers. For a long moment he stared around the silent, softly lit room. The red ascent trajectory line was stationary on the display screen across the room. Finally he spoke: "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction. "66 The presidential commission, headed by former Secretary of State William Rogers, that was set"up to~nvestigate the 10 cause of the disaster had little trouble identifying the physical cause. One of thei jOints on a booster rocket failed to seal. The "culprits" were the synthetic rubber O-rings that were designed to keep the rockets' superhot gases from escaping from the joints between the booster's four main segments. Resulting flames then burned through the shuttle's external fuel tank. Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen then mixed and ignited, causing the explo- sion that destroyed the Challenger. However, "the Rogers Commission" investigations also revealed a lot about the internal workings of NASA. It was a geographically dispersed matrix organiza- tion. Its HQ was in Washington, D.C., where its most senior managers, including its head, NASA administrator James Begg, were mainly involved in lobbying activity reflecting the dependence on federal funds (and its subsequent vulnerability to fluctuations in funding). Mission Control was located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; all propulsion aspects (main engines, rocket boosters, fuel tanks) were the responsibility of the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama; while the assembly and launch took place at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The centers existed in an uneasy alliance of cooperation and competition. The Marshall Center in particular was known for its independent stance based on its proud tradition going right back through the Apollo program to the early days of rocketry with Werner von Braun. One manifestation of this pride, rein- forced by its autocratic leader William Lucas, was that loyalty to Marshall came before all. Any problems that were identi- fied were to be kept strictly "in-house," which at Marshall meant within Marshall. Those who failed to abide by this expecta- tion-perhaps by talking too freely to other parts of NASA-could exp~ct
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This note was uploaded on 02/10/2012 for the course OLS 386 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '08 term at Purdue.

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Challenger - THE CHALLENGER DISASTER65 On the space shuttle...

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