Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenger disaster thoughts

Crew of mission STS-51 L, lost January 28, 1986

Commander Francis R Scobee
Pilot Michael J Smith
Judith A Resnik
Ellison S Onizuka
Ronald E McNair
Gregory B Jarvis
Sharon Christa McAuliffe

Wreckage of Challenger during recovery from Atlantic ocean.

While we commemorate the loss of the crew, and recognize the courage of those who explore space and understand the value of the risk, let's also remember why it happened. I'm not talking about the actual failure of the frozen o-ring which allowed hot gas to escape the solid rocket motor. I'm talking about the failure of leadership. Someone was too eager to please superiors and succumbed to the pressure of a schedule, ignoring warnings from those who understood the danger. Seven lives were lost. The failure was doubled later, when those guilty of the failure tried to cover up their mistakes by blaming and persecuting the very engineer and team that warned them about the danger.

May NASA and ATK (formerly Thiokol) never make that mistake again.

Challenger in orbit, picture taken from the SPAS satellite.

After the accident, America endured a period of waiting while engineers and scientists examined the cause of the accident and modified the shuttle boosters so that the same problem would not occur. Let's also remember that there were great sacrifices made by NASA and contractor workers to solve the problems and get us flying again. Eventually, shuttle Discovery returned our nation to space travel.

We need to encourage private companies to continue their work on new launch vehicles and crew capsules which will give us alternatives to just one government launch system. With the competitive nature of Boeing, Lockheed, Space X, and Virgin Galactic, we look forward to a more prosperous space travel scenario.

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