Day’s Verse:
But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
Titus 2:1

Yesterday I had to write a brief paper arguing that the Challenger disaster occurred because the managers and engineers failed to achieve a complete respect for the rhetorical deliberative process. That is known as an Aristotelian hypothesis, and if you have any idea what that means, let me know. It has also been argued that the Challenger was allowed to launch on an 18° day, although the O-rings were suspected to become impaired at 50°, because the engineers simply were incapable of communicating with the managers. This is called a positivist argument, claiming a simple inability to connect. Then there is an argument that the managers and engineers inhabited such different social circles that they each perceived the same data differently and as a result all the talk in the world could not get them to agree. This is a postmodernist argument, with the idea that irrevocable differences prevented effective communication.

Frankly, these all sound a little touchy-feely to me. I think the managers felt too much pressure from NASA (see also: their archive on the accident) and their heavily-publicized Teacher in Space program and from President Reagan, who wanted to give a upbeat State of the Union about the successful Teacher in Space program. His actual speech was rather less perky. At least one manager, the VP of engineering, understood from an engineering standpoint what was going on but decided to go with his cronies and OK a launch. For all the discussion about not being able to communicate – and it seemed that there was a lot of that going on too – I think the managers caved in, thinking that other launches with these O-rings had gone well enough and why should this time be any different? But as Feynman wrote in the Rogers Commission, “reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

Where were you when the Challenger blew up?

– KF –

One thought on “What Caused the Challenger Accident?

  1. by my house theres this place called the challenger center and its designed for field trips and you go pretend you are in outerspace. you do the work they would have done. it is awesome because you get to be all decked out astronaut style. we went there twice in elementary school.

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