This case study of one of the most iconic episodes in engineering history is designed to highlight some of the difficulties engineers might encounter should their engineering judgment regarding matters that endanger life or property be overruled by their employer and to give students an understanding of their rights and responsibilities in such circumstances according to the NSPE codes of ethics. The Challenger case was chosen precisely because it is not a clear-cut case of unsafe engineering, thus providing the kind of realistic complexity that engineers face in the course of their professional lives. NASA and the relevant contractor, Morton Thiokol, were adamant both before and after the Challenger failure that proper engineering analysis drove their decision making – that it was not a case of succumbing to outside pressure or weighing political or financial considerations. Students can decide for themselves what they would have done given the public facts of the case. The case also brings out the limited legal support that exists for engineers who might face retaliation from such dissent.
Park Doing, Ph.D.