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Challenger Case Study

The Challenger space shuttle was the second in the line of American
space craft. The Challenger was constructed in 1982 by the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, which is Americas leader in
aerospace research. The Challenger actually flew nine successful missions
before the accident. Mission 51L was the mission where it would actually
carry live personnel as well as valuable cargo. The cargo was the Tracking
Data Relay Satellite-2 and the Shuttle-Pointed Tool for Astronomy. The
Shuttle-Pointed Tool for Astronomy was a free-flying module that was going
to analyze Halley's Comet. There was one person who was a participant in a
new program which was called the Teacher in Space Program. Christa
McAuliffe was selected from over 11,000 applicants and was trained to be
the first teacher in space. The crew was made up of seven members: Francis
R. Scobee was the mission commander, Michael J. Smith was the pilot,
Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik were the mission
specialists, Gregory B. Jarvis was the specialist, and McAuliffe who is the
previously mentioned teacher that had been selected for space flight.
The initial liftoff was scheduled for 3:43 p.m. EST on January 22, 1986.
Several issues with the shuttle, the weather, and the available resources
such as other missions, poor weather conditions, and a faulty equipment
hatch. The final liftoff time was finally set to January 28th at 11:38:0 a.m.
EST. The Challenger took off, flew for seventy three seconds, and blew up.

The primary stakeholders for this disaster were those that are directly
affected. All seven crew members lost their lives. The American government
declared them to be heroes who gave their lives to further the space effort.
Ronald Reagan initiated a report which looked closely at the mission to see
what went wrong. The ones who built the craft and NASAs officials who
cleared the shuttle for takeoff were both found to be at fault. Afterwards, all
of NASAs missions were cancelled for two years until they were finally
allowed to launch the Discovery on September 28, 1988. Funding was
stopped during this period which caused problems with the abilities to find
issues with the safety of missions and the ability to create new parts to
insure future safe launches.
There were also secondary stakeholders, which include all of the family
and friends of the mission personnel. The American public was also affected
by this crash due to the fact that the launch aired on live TV. All Americans
have a small stake in NASAs space program, due to the competition with
other countries.
The central technical problem was the O-ring failed to seal on the right
side of the shuttle. Two factors played into this problem, poor design and the
cold weather, which created a small gap between the parts that are between
the outside of the Challenger and the rocket. This gap leaked gas this was
then lit by the rocket creating an even larger hole. Then the leak burned
straight through the supports of one of the boosters as well as the external

fuel tank. The booster then was loosened from the shuttle and collided with
another fuel tank piercing it. This tank contained liquid hydrogen and liquid
oxygen. These gases and liquids mixed together and ignited, causing the
explosion.
This problem could have been avoided with a proper inspection of the
area that contained the O-ring. If the engineers had designed it correctly
there would have been no initial leak, which led to the explosion. The
inspection performed before takeoff showed there could be a problem with
the O-ring. The engineers told the officials that were overseeing the takeoff,
but they were ignored. The officials decided to continue with the launch
even with this possible problem with the shuttle, and allowed the Challenger
to take off. If the officials had listened to the engineers, this entire issue
could have been avoided.
The following analysis will be from the perspective of the engineers
involved in the design of the Challenger. The engineers created the faulty Oring and placed this part in the shuttle directly ending the lives of the
mission personnel. The officials did rush the launch; however, it would have
been successful if the O-rings were properly sealed during the design phase
of this mission. This error gives the most fault of accident to the engineers.
This analysis will focus on the O-ring issue which was the major cause of this
issue. Safety standards were violated with an improper inspection of the
Challenger. When these standards were violated it resulted in the loss of

seven human lives as well as destroying the Challenger worth millions and
possibly billions of dollars. The solutions would include a better inspection of
the O-rings, followed by a cancellation of the launch when the problem was
found.
Prima facie duty is defined as a duty that is obvious. The engineers
prima facie duty was to ensure a safe launch and to design parts to create a
safe mission for all personnel involved. The O-rings did not properly seal the
tank which would have created serious problems even if the booster had not
pierced the fuel tank. The engineers showed how they did not feel it was
safe to launch and should have been more thorough in their inspection. The
engineers failed and built a shuttle which exploded seventy three seconds
after launch. Their duty in this mission was to have a safe launch and they
failed.
Deontology is that actions are obligatory irrespective of the pleasure or
painful consequences produced. The safety inspection and the launch were
both rushed which caused this accident. When the engineers tried to delay
the takeoff, the officials only saw another delay in their mission, which would
look as though they are not completing the mission in a reasonable time.
Instead of trying to rush the launch, every safety precaution should have
been taken to avoid this terrible accident and the engineers should have
been more vocal in their doubts. Advancing in the space age was very
important to America but their duty was not to America but to the personnel

to ensure their safe mission and safe return. They failed to see what their
true duty was and therefore failed.
Consequentialism is defined as any ethical theory that argues
fundamentally that the right action is an action that produces good results or
outcomes and that avoids bad results or outcomes. The engineers failed to
see that their doubts in the launch of this shuttle could have negative
consequences. Had the engineers stopped the launch, this disaster could
have been all together avoided and none of the terrible events would have
ever happened. Launching a rocket with broken pieces is a very poor
decision and the launch should have been delayed until the engineers
decided that it was fine.
Avoiding these accidents is as simple as allowing the designers of the
shuttle to decide when it is able to launch. Space flight Is very complicated
and should be left to individuals who are able to calculate and ensure safety.
The engineers voiced their thoughts of how the shuttle was not safe to
launch that day and therefore the shuttle should not have been launched.
Personally, I believe the officials are more to blame than the engineers. The
officials heard their thoughts of how the shuttle may not be safe to launch
but they launched anyways and then the shuttle exploded. An easy solution
to this accident is to trust the engineers when they believe this shuttle is not
in any condition to perform a safe mission. NASA rushed this mission and
killed the personnel as a result. Safety is the most important principle in

ethics and it should have been the most important thing for all of the people
involved in this mission. I feel that a group of engineers that have inspected
the shuttle thoroughly should be the first to decide if the shuttle can launch
and finally a group of officials then decide if the launch should take place.
Since the engineers have time to properly inspect the shuttle lives would be
saved and having two levels of approval would lessen the chance that
accidents like this would happen in the future.
When designing a device such as a shuttle you should always think of
safety first. In the future I hope we are able to learn from this mistake and
ultimately change how these launches function. All the personnel and
devices that were involved in this mission were important for the
advancement of America and should never be thought of as expendable. In
the future officials and engineers should work together to avoid problems like
this in order to avoid any unnecessary loss of life.

Works Cited:
1. Greene, Nick. Challenger Disaster - A NASA Tragedy. 2003. Retrieved from
http://space.about.com/cs/challenger/a/challenger.htm