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Compromise with conscience at the cost of life

Space shuttle Challenger starting

On January 28, 35 years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger and its seven crew were lost when the vehicle broke up after 73 seconds of ascent. The event tragically stands in American history along with the Kennedy assassination or the 2001 terrorist attacks by severity.


The technical reason for the failure was the proper Solid Rocket Booster's (SRB) O-ring seal that ultimately destroyed Challenger. However, it changed the Space Shuttle program forever. It pointed to the decision-making process that proved to be a death sentence.


But later, the root causes were discovered by several facts:

  • In 1971 the special reports meant the danger of gas leaks.
  • In 1977, researchers concluded that the threat was because of damaging the sealing rings.
  • In 1985, the producer convinced NASA that they didn't need to spend additional costs for redesigning and that the problem of O-rings was "solved".
  • Due to many factors, the agency constantly postponed the shuttle's launch after the original date of January 22. It caused an increase in frost and pushed the space agency's leadership to launch the shuttle as fast as possible.
  • On January 28, "Morton Thiokol" engineers raised the alarm (whistleblow) by writing a memorandum Help! They warned about the danger of launching and recommended postponing launching.
  • In response to the engineers' alarm, the company's Management was withdrawn inadequately. It used all possible means to force the initiators to retreat. Under appropriate management pressure, the engineers eventually allowed the tragedy to happen

NASA's Management pressed on Morton's top managers. However, the highest pressure was on engineers. Here are some quotes about this:


We discussed what might happen below our 40-degree qualification temperature, and practically to a man, we decided it would be catastrophic.


The managers said 'we have to make a management decision.


Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat.

Challenger top manager quote ethicontrol

Managers pressed engineers, and they allowed tragedy to happen. As experts, engineers convinced management that the catastrophe would happen. However, they did not have the strength to act in good conscience. Under pressure, they accepted some compromises with inner convictions — they violated the main rules.


He changed his hat and changed his vote, just 30 minutes after he was the one to give the recommendation not to launch. I didn't agree with one single statement made on the recommendations given by the managers.


The situation is interesting because they knew they were doing poorly. Management knew about the risk. However, being influenced by many factors, they made the wrong decision.


We just had a meeting to go launch tomorrow and kill the astronauts, but outside of that, it was a great day.


Lord, make all these other engineers wrong and me, let it go. I thought we were home-free too.

After the crash of the shuttle "Columbia" in 2003, the investigation commission concluded that NASA could not learn a lesson from the catastrophe of the "Challenger". The problems that settled to the death of the "Challenger" weren't solved. So, the same people who caused the crash of "Challenger" caused the wreck of the shuttle "Columbia" 17.