Case Study Analysis
Activity Title: Case Analysis Space Shuttle Challenger Accident Name:
Cause(s) of Accident
As I read the Presidents Commission report and the other sources available, it is surprising that there are so few direct causes outlined in the Shuttle Challenger’s ill-fated incident on the morning of January 28, 1986. I remember that morning well, as I was standing on the front stoop of our shop located just off the flight line on MacDill AFB, FL some 125 miles from the launch site, however once the shuttle began its flight you could always see the trail it left for miles. This morning started out no differently than any other, except that it was a launch day, and we were set on watching from our perch at MacDill. I and the others with me watched in utter amazement as the events unfolded, and we knew something was wrong. According to National Geographic (2100) "The post-flight analysis indicated that the cold temperature was certainly a contributing factor. But so was the solid rocket booster joint’s design and NASA's decision-making process. It was like a perfect storm of combined circumstances." The actual causes were described in the Report (1986) as “The consensus of the Commission and participating investigative agencies is that the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger was caused by a failure in the joint between the two lower segments of the right Solid Rocket Motor. The specific failure was the destruction of the seals that are intended to prevent hot gases from leaking through the joint during the propellant burn of the rocket motor. The evidence assembled by the Commission indicates that no other element of the Space Shuttle system contributed to this failure.” The report continued to outline “in arriving at this conclusion, the Commission reviewed in detail all available data, reports and records; directed and supervised numerous tests, analyses, and experiments by NASA, civilian contractors and various government agencies; and then developed specific failure scenarios and the range of most probable causative factors. The sections that follow discuss the results of the investigation. In view of the findings, the Commission concluded that the cause of the Challenger accident was the failure of the pressure seal in the aft field joint of the right Solid Rocket Motor. The failure was due to a faulty design unacceptably sensitive to a number of factors. These factors were the effects of temperature, physical dimensions, and the character of materials, the effects of reusability, processing, and the reaction of the joint to dynamic loading.”
Structural and Mechanical Factors
As outlined in the Report (1986) “The Orbiter, under severe aerodynamic loads, broke into several large sections which emerged from the fireball. Separate sections that can be identified on film include the main engine/tail section with the engines still burning, one wing of the Orbiter, and the forward fuselage trailing a mass of umbilical lines pulled loose from the payload bay.” Although not directly outlined in any reports that I have found, one would ascertain that the Shuttle Challenger underwent various stresses and loads. As described in Fundamentals of Aircraft Material Factors 2nd Edition, “When a load is applied to a metallic structural material, the metallic bonding resists a change in the atomic arrangement. This resistance is called stress. Stress is measured in pounds per square inch, psi, in the U.S. customary system of measurements. Stress refers to a definite plane passing through a given point on the structural member.” One can only imagine the shear load changes that were taking place as the shuttle was basically ripped away from its flight structure. NASA describes the Shuttle as a combination of elements comprised of the orbiter, solid rocket boosters and the fuel tank. All of these components are required for launch flight and the thrusts and velocity...
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