Paper Example: Lessons Learnt From the Challenger Disaster

Published: 2023-01-22
Paper Example: Lessons Learnt From the Challenger Disaster
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Space Aviation Disaster Risk management
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 948 words
8 min read

The events that transpired before and after the challenger sts-51l shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after launch will forever be remembered even though it has been more than 30 years since the tragedy occurred (Vaughan, 2004). Although NASA had conducted several successful missions previously, this particular disaster is something that highlighted the laxity of the agency regarding safety and risk issues. A commission that was set up by the then president Reagan established that the explosion was caused mainly by design faults. The main technical fault was identified as a failure of the 'O-ring.' The o-ring is a fuel seal that is located on the right side of the shuttle. Although the failure of the seal was attributed to the extremely cold weather conditions, the disaster was a clear indication that NASA was not well prepared to deal with such eventualities (Vaughan, 2004). This essay analyses the Challenger disaster and the lessons learned from the tragedy regarding risk management.

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The challenger disaster made it known to the world about the numerous technical faults in the design and construction of the shuttle. These faults range from communication to design safety; the investigative commissions also identified that there were serious gaps in the safety procedures of the agency and that there were rampant cases of poor decision making by the management (Vaughan, 2004). Further, the commission deduced that poor communication across the agency department resulted in the fatal decision to launch the shuttle with total disregard of the weather conditions. The information did not flow as expected between the NASA management, the engineering staff, and the shuttle managers. Generally, the management of the agency operated with disregard to the safety of its crew.

The following steps of risk management can cement the main reason why NASA was blamed for the Challenger disaster. Risk identification: it is safe to say that NASA was aware that there was a flaw in the design of the solid rocket boosters (SRBs), especially the Orings, but ignored it (Razani, 2018). Data analysis: NASA engineers did not have previous data to show that they had tested the performance of the Orings in cold weather and that they expected positive results during the launch. After the accident, details further emerged that the engineers had only tested the performance of the O-rings at temperatures of 40 F as opposed to the temperatures of 18 F that were experienced on the launch day (Dombrowski, 1991). Risk control: NASA was well aware of the risks of launching the challenger in that extreme cold weather, but the management disregarded this and failed to pass the information to those in higher authority (Valerdi& Kohl, 2004).

Various recommendations were made after the investigations about the challenger tragedy were concluded. First and foremost, it recommended that NASA should set up a department to specifically deal with safety and workforce management headed by a departmental head who would report directly to the agency director. The department will be charged with the responsibility of implementing the safety and risk mitigation strategy of the entire agency. The other recommendation that was made by the investigative committee was the establishment of an STS panel that would advise the STS Manager regarding various operational procedures such as launch procedures, flight regulations, and risk management.

Over the years, after the Challenger disaster, NASA has adopted several engineering and technological innovations to mitigate risks and 'stay ahead' of accidents. NASA has been working on a system that would enable their personnel to identify potential risks and trends and relay the information across the relevant departments of the agency to ensure that the identified potential hazards do not result to tragedies. The development of such a system had been going on even before the Challenger accident. However, more effort and resources were dedicated to the actualization of the project after the disaster. The NASA ASRS system was the basis for the development of the Synchronous Meteorological Satellite (SMS) that can track possible risks even if they do not end up being accidents (Razani, 2018). The system provided a means for all parties in the aviation industry to receive information that was crucial to averting disasters. The system later came to be known as the Safety Management System as it encompassed the use of different technological inventions that were all aimed at bolstering the safety of the aviation industry. Going back to the Challenger shuttle disaster, NASA has been using the SMS, to ensure that they do not repeat the mistakes that happened on that particular mission ( Razani, 2018). The system enables the agency to compile data regarding weather patterns in the earth's atmosphere and the near space environment. This data is crucial as it allows the agency to make informed and safety conscious decisions.

Though tragic it may be, the Challenger shuttle disaster has served as a wakeup call to not only NASA but also other aviation agencies across the globe. Agencies have established systems that are meant to boost risk assessment and disaster mitigation efforts across the global aviation industry (Razani, 2018). Most specifically, the operational management and decision-making process of NASA has changed significantly due to the various strategies that were implemented after the Challenger disaster. It is beyond doubt that innovative systems such the SMS have played a significant role in mitigating the numerous potential risks that exist in the geospatial aviation industry.


Dombrowski, P. M., (1991). The lessons of the Challenger investigations. IEEE transactions on professional communication, 34(4), 211-216.

Razani, M. (2018). Commercial Space Technologies and Applications: Communication, Remote Sensing, GPS, and Meteorological Satellites. CRC Press.

Valerdi, R., & Kohl, R. J. (2004, March).An approach to technology risk management.In Engineering Systems Division Symposium (Vol. 3, pp. 29-31).

Vaughan, D. (2004). Theorizing disaster: Analogy, historical ethnography, and the Challenger accident. Ethnography, 5(3), 315-347.

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