The Challenger Disaster
By: Kathy Neuner & Jeremy Rider
Executive Summary Many factors must be examined to find the underlying reason for the horrible disaster of the space shuttle Challenger. We will cover both the technical causes to the disaster and the communication breakdown with NASA. We will also look at the outside pressure that NASA was receiving from the media, congress and the military. Recommendations for NASA and anyone in the communication field will be given. These recommendations will help to avoid any further problems with communication in any organization. The O-rings failed to properly seal the gap in the joint seal. Failure of the Orings was the ultimate mechanical cause to the explosion of the Challenger. Communication breakdown between NASA employees and between NASA and MortonThiokol was also a major problem. The lack of communication ultimately caused the Challenger to explode. The decision to launch the Challenger on that cold morning in January was made on incomplete information. NASA’s management, and anyone else that knew of the many possible problems that could have happened, were the final causes of the disaster. Symbolic Mission On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was to make a historic and symbolic journey into outer space. With seven crewmembers on board, the Challenger the highly anticipated launch captivated the attention of many Americans. Not only was the shuttle going into space, but it was also taking an average American with it, a school teacher. Christa McAuliffe was going to give school lessons to students from space. Her lessons were highly anticipated by schoolchildren everywhere. Children were anxious to learn from space, and adults everywhere were fascinated; it was likely to capture the mind of the nation. This mission was a symbol of safety. This mission crossed boundaries that had never been explored before; it was a pledge of hope for science. Christa McAuliffe was a regular everyday person. She was not an astronaut; she was a schoolteacher. The launch was believed to represent safety. If NASA were going to let a woman schoolteacher go into space, space travel was surely safe. The Challenger mission was also a symbol of the American dream. The mission represented our economic, social, political and scientific success. It was supposed to make Americans feel more comfortable with the thought of space travel. The Challenger was also going to help NASA build its reputation and show that they were good for our country.
The morning of January 28, 1986 was going to be the beginning of a new era of space travel. It was going to be the start of understanding and liking the idea of traveling into space. The mission was going to be a teaching tool for schoolchildren everywhere; they were going to learn from outer space. But as the space shuttle Challenger was launched something awful went wrong. With the world watching the historic event, the Challenger exploded after launch. The mission quickly went from a new beginning of understanding to a mission of grief and disaster. Structure The solid socket booster (SRB) is the part of the shuttle that housed the portion of the Challenger that malfunctioned. The SRB holds the rocket fuel and essentially powers the shuttle into outer space. The SRB is supposed to direct downward all of the exhaust gasses, which in turn propels the rocket upward. After liftoff the SRB disconnects from the shuttle and parachutes to earth where it will be used in later launches. The SRB is a cylindrical shell that is protected by a layer of insulation. Within this shell there are joint seals. (Figure 1) These joints are made up of zinc chromate putty and two O-rings, the primary and the secondary. Putty is supposed to protect the O-rings from extreme temperature and gasses. The putty is able to protect the O-rings because it is an insulator between the gaps of the joint seal. The O-rings are elastic rings that are meant to contract and...
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