Challenger Essay Research Paper On January 26

Challenger Essay, Research Paper On January 26, 1986, one of the greatest disasters of our time occurred. When Challenger was destroyed many questions were asked about the safety of space missions. Many questions

Challenger Essay, Research Paper

On January 26, 1986, one of

the greatest disasters of our time occurred. When Challenger was destroyed

many questions were asked about the safety of space missions. Many questions

were asked about the credibility of the engineers who designed the air craft.

It is now know that crucial information about the faulty O-rings was know

to many if not all of the engineers. These engineers had many moral decisions

they had to face when the problem was first noticed, which was as early as

November 1981.

When a shuttle is launched their are two booster rockets attached

to the side of it that disconnect when the shuttle gets into orbit. The rockets

that were on the Challenger were manufactured by Morton-Thiokol, an engineering

company. This company then sends the rockets to the launch site where they

are assembled. Where the different pieces of the rocket fit together, there

is a set of O-rings that make a seal around the booster. Around the O-rings

their is a putty substance that holds the O-rings in place. In November of

1981, after the flight of the second shuttle mission, the joints where examined,

and the O-rings were eroded.

The joints were still sealing effectively but

the O-ring material was decaying because of hot gasses that went through the

putty. At this point Roger Boisjoly an engineer for Morton-Thiokol started

researching different types of putty to reduce the corrosion on the O-rings.

After testing the O-rings in the laboratory it was found that they did not

return to their original size after being compressed at low temperatures.

Thiokol designed a set of billets that would hold the joint more firmly in

place. These billets were not ready on the day of the Challenger disaster

because they took too long to manufacture, and NASA did not want to delay the


The next tests took place in June of 1985 at Morton-Thiokol in

Utah. The primary seal on flight 51B which flew on April 29, 1985, was eroded;

"eroded in 3 places over a 1.3 inch length up to a maximum depth of.171 inches.

It was postulated that this primary seal had never sealed during the full

two minute flight."i It’s at this point that Boisjoly knew he had to go to

his superiors about the problem. In August of 1985 Morton-Thiokol formed a

task force of engineers to solve the problem of the O-rings. This task force

only consisted of 5 engineers who could not solve the problem. NASA wanted

Thiokol to down play the problem because they were under a lot of pressure

due to competition.

The night before the scheduled launch of Challenger,

a teleconference was held between engineers and management from the Kennedy

Space Center, Marshal Space Flight Center in Alabama and Morton-Thiokol in

Utah.ii Boisjoly, and Ernie Thompson another engineer from Thiokol knew this

was their last chance to stop the flight from taking off. Robert Lund, Thiokol’s

Engineering Vice President showed that 53 degrees "was the only low temperature

data Thiokol had for the effects of cold on the operational boosters."iiiBut

they had no data that did prove that it was unsafe to launch at lower temperatures.

Boisjoly and Thompson were unsuccessful in "blowing the whistle." The next

day the Challenger took of from the Kennedy space Center; "a rush of cotton-candy

like smoke washed over the cockpit windows, possibly accompanied by a brief

burst of brilliant orange flames. Almost simultaneously, the astronauts were

crushed down in their seats by a force at least 12 times greater than gravity."iv

After the disaster Boisjoly went to his office, where he stayed and thought.

Some of his colleagues came in to see how he was doing but he could not even

speak, he was so over come with emotion. Their were many factors that effected

neglecting the O-rings. For one NASA had a billion dollar contract with Thiokol

before the disaster and Thiokol felt that causing any problems by expressing

Boisjolys concern could jeopardize the contract. Boisjoly was an engineer and

according to a code of ethics I believe he should have followed, he should

have gone public with the information when NASA told them to down play the

problem. Along with his loyalty to Thiokol he also had a moral obligation

to the crew of the Challenger. A question he should have asked at the time

was "Would I let my wife or children ride in there?"

I believe that

Boisjoly did not do a good enough job in light of the model code of ethics.

I do not know if any one would have been able to stop the flight because NASA

had their set of plans that they wanted to stick to and Thiokol was looking

at the problem from a management point of view. Gerry Mason the President

of Thiokol said to Robert Lund; "take off your engineering hat and put on your

management hat." v I do believe that the code is good in theory but I also

believe that it is very hard to follow. This is so because the engineer must

look at the problem from all points of view. Boisjoly was put in a very tough

position he either goes to the media and loss his job, or down play the serious

problem and risks and eventually destroys the lives of the crew. I personally

believe that I would opt to loss my job because it was the right thing to do,

and because I would not be able to handle the lives of five people on my conscience.

The code of ethics is necessary in any employment situation. But it needs

to be stressed more in the education of an engineer. Engineers must realize

that their are many situations that people put their live in the hands of the

engineer. Every time we step into a car we are relying on the design of an

engineer, and if any part of it fails the passenger could get hurt if not killed.

In today’s society their are many institutions that protect the public from

technology; buildings must meet certain regulations, and cars have to meet

certain safety standards. But their are not as many organizations that protect

the rights of the engineers. When can we say that it is no longer the engineer’s

fault, and say that it is the fault of the operator? Engineers must be careful

when it comes to ethical standards, they should not have to be in the same

position that Boisjoly was in. By evaluating the situation and acting according

to what is best for society and themselves they should find a perfect median


morals and management.

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Gerry Mason, January 27 1986