This case study is one of the most iconic episodes in engineering history. This webinar gives an alternate analysis to the often-repeated lesson taken from the Challenger case that managers should not overrule sound engineering in the name of schedule, publicity, or budgetary constraints. Indeed, NASA engineers were adamant both before and after the Challenger failure that proper engineering analysis drove their decision-making and that it was not a case of succumbing to outside pressure or weighing political or financial considerations. Engineers from the relevant contractor, Morton Thiokol, who argued for a delay the night before the launch, felt that their recommendation was based on sound engineering analysis. But was it? Webinar participants can decide for themselves what they would have done given the public facts of the case. How could codes of engineering ethics have helped in the Challenger case? The webinar also brings out the limited legal support that exists for engineers who might face retaliation from such dissent.
The temperature at launch for the Challenger was 20 Degrees Fahrenheit lower than any previous launch. It is certainly the case that catastrophic O-ring ‘blow-by’ in a Solid Rocket Booster of the Challenger was the cause of the failure and that evidence for non-catastrophic O-ring blow-by had appeared from several previous launches. But was there evidence that the non-catastrophic O-ring problem would become catastrophic if the launch temperature was colder than on previous launches? How much colder would the launch temperature have to be to cause catastrophic O-ring blow-by? These engineering issues were discussed on the eve of the launch and the engineering substance of those discussions will be presented in the webinar. Is it possible that the engineering decision-making was sound, but that the system failed anyway, or were clear signals ignored signifying a failure of engineering ethics?
- Understand the relevant technical details regarding engineering decision-making in the Challenger case.
- Understand the different organizations, companies, and agencies involved in the Challenger case.
- Develop an ability to apply NSPE Codes of Ethics to engineers involved in the Challenger case.
- Understand the specific circumstances under which legal whistleblower protections apply to engineers.
Total Number of Approved PDH Hours: 1