Posted by lex, on December 10, 2006
It seems passing strange to work so hard for so long on a topic and not hit publish.
So I won’t:
The narrative of the of the space shuttle Challenger’s last flight in 1986, culminating in the ship’s complete destruction shortly after launch, comprises a resonant and compelling morality tale. It is the modern day equivalent of the death of a king “for the want of a nail.” The temperature-driven failure of a two-dollar O-ring led to the fiery destruction of an almost irreplaceably expensive asset, the loss of seven heroic lives and a staggering blow to US national prestige. Adding to the drama was the fact that the entire event was broadcast live to a spellbound world that had come, like too many perhaps within the hierarchy of the National Air and Space Administration, to view placing astronauts in space atop rocket ships as a routine event, scarcely worthy of note. As fascinating a visual spectacle as the Challenger disaster was to prove, the more prosaic issues uncovered by subsequent investigation and analysis provide important lessons for program managers and leadership executives to this day.
The space shuttle program began in the early 1970’s with the idea of providing the US with “routine and economic” manned space flight. Three potential concepts of operation were initially proposed, with escalating complexity, risk and cost. The fact that the least expensive and lowest risk solution was ultimately selected should not have obscured the fact that the technology required to successfully realize the concept was nevertheless cutting edge and the risks significant.