NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Engineering ・APA ・3 Sources

On 28th January 1986, NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into the flight and exploded, killing seven crew members that consisted of five astronauts and two specialists (Lieurance, 2001). The accident devastated the entire nation because it was broadcast on live television. The spacecraft dismembered over the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Florida. According to information given to the Space website by NASA, the Challenger crushed because a rubber called “O-ring” seal broke, causing the right hand of the solid rocket booster to fail (Wall, 2016). The failure of the booster permitted the escape of hot gases that damaged the external fuel tank of the orbiter and the gear connecting the booster to the fuel tank.

Further investigations of the accident show that the weather was also partly responsible for the failure of the “O-ring” seal. On launch day, the weather was 2 – 15 degrees Celsius (Lieurance, 2001). The cold temperatures condensed the seal causing it to harden, and could, therefore, not function (Wall, 2016). However, analysis by specialists, engineers, and the Roger Commission tasked with the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident concluded that human error was the primary reason for the failure of the mission (Arnold & Malley, 1988). The Roger Commission was satisfied that NASA should not have proceeded with the mission due to glaring technical errors. For instance, investigators discovered that the policymakers and the technical team had no clear means of communication during the planning phase of the project. Therefore, there were numerous unfilled gaps of information that the entire team did not address which was crucial to the success of the mission. For example, the engineers and technicians often discovered operational problems with some parts of the rocket, but the management had isolated the technical staff, thus no way to pass information (Arnold & Malley, 1988).

It is evident that there was a missing element of teamwork for a project of such a colossal magnitude. For instance, according to various testimonies during the investigations, the designers of the booster rocket and Morton Thiokol Engineers repeatedly warned NASA and the management that the launch pad was too cold to take off, but the managers blatantly ignored. The Roger Commission referred to the lack of adherence to the warnings as selective hearing (Arnold & Malley, 1988). Despite knowing the flaws with the entire launch system, Thiokol engineers later consented to the launch of the Shuttle.

According to Wall (2016), the Space Shuttle Program had executed 24 missions in a row, and therefore NASA could have grown complacent to possible risk. Also, NASA had set out commercial and military objectives as early as 1977 (Lieurance, 2001). As the agency increased flight schedules of the space shuttles, the challenger developed more technical problems that were corrected to serve adequately but never addressed in totality. NASA, therefore, continued to undertake projects terming the risks as acceptable and avoidable. Ultimately, the January 28th, 1986 STS-51L mission was the limit for the space shuttle due to all the compounded technical problems (Wall, 2016).

After the failure of the mission and the conclusion of the investigations, NASA put measures in place to prevent future disasters. The principal recommendation was better organizational structures and sound organizational ethics that would ensure teamwork and effective communication (Lieurance, 2001). Further, the families of the dead crew members set up the Challenger Center for Space Science Education nonprofit organization that promotes scientific studies for children interested in spatial studies.


Arnold, V., & Malley, J. (1988). Communication: the Missing Link in the Challenger Disaster. Association for Business Communication: Sage Journals. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from [].

Wall, M. (2016). Challenger Disaster 30 Years Ago Shocked the World, Changed NASA. Space. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from [ disaster-30-years.html].

Lieurance, S. (2001). The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster in American History. Enslow. Print.

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