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The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Factors

Facts of the Challenger Case

Engineering design and its impact on future missions and on the society

Focusing more on the schedule than the achievement of the right design, where NASA put more emphasis on the timeframe of the project as compared to the quality standards of the project. There was great pressure from both the political environment and unfair competition with other countries that were working on the space mission programs. The success of an engineering project is determined by the design, and thus NASA should have given more time to the improvement of the design rather than pushing the engineers towards finishing the project within the predetermined scheduled time. The failure of the Challenger due to these problems acted as a great lesson for NASA and from that time, it has been stressing on the design qualities as opposed to the scheduled timeframe for its projects. In addition, the society learnt from the failure of that mission and the lessons have been used as ethical guidelines in various professions.

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Neglecting early noted design problems

NASA is blamed for neglecting the severity of earlier noted problems by relying on previous launches and consequently the project failed due to poor designing. Engineers had raised issues on the ability of O-rings to seal the field joints during the launching, but NASA neglected the need to look at the severity of the problem and their inherent impacts to the project. As aforementioned, NASA was focused on the scheduled time, and thus it was determined to launch the Challenger even with minor design problems. The excuse given was that the Challenger was the first mission and such undertakings are not perfect, thus implying that design changes were to be considered in the future modified projects. Since then, NASA vowed to work on the early noted problems before launching any shuttle in a bid to ensure the public and astronauts’ safety (Vaughan 176).

Failure to change O-rings and instead putting the steel billets

NASA was frustrating engineers whenever they tried to work on the O-ring designs; however, Thiokol engineers went ahead to redesign the field joints that had no O-rings, and instead put steel billets. Steel billets were considered as safe alternatives for the project due to their ability to withstand hot gases. Unfortunately, NASA was against the idea from the start, as the launching date would arrive before finishing the modified designs. After the accident, NASA regretted its frustrations towards the involved engineers, and since then, it has been stressing on the achievements of the best possible designs for any project before it is launched in a bid to minimize risks.

Atmospheric (weather) conditions from the night before launch until the time of the disaster

Cold front

A day before the launching, the area was declared free from the cold front, but the situation changed during the night when the weather changed towards the launching area.

Extreme cold temperatures

The weather condition in the area was not favorable for the launching due to extreme cold temperatures during the night at 80 F. The cold temperatures affected the O-rings by causing them to shrink, and thus allowing the blow-by gases to pass through.

Shear winds

Soon after the launching, there was a very strong wind shear, which was believed to have caused stress on seals, thus leading to leakage of hot gases to the fuel tank. These conditions ultimately contributed to the explosion that befell the Challenger.

Neglected Professional Responsibilities

The project was riddled with professional misconducts, which are believed to have been the major causes of the project failure. NASA’s idea of beating the scheduled timeframe and ignoring other aspects of the project including safety measures amounted to professional misconduct. In addition, the engineers were involved in unhealthy managerial wars, whereby their opinions concerning the conditions under which the project could launch were met with strong oppositions from the managers. According to the ethics of the engineering profession, engineers ought to uphold safety standards in project designs (Harris et al. 37). However, given the condition under which they were working, they did not have the opportunity to adhere to that professional requirement. Hence, the NASA officials, who doubled as the project managers, mistreated the project engineers by disapproving their views on the quality and viability of the project designs before the launch. In addition, engineers are not supposed to authenticate projects that have a probability of causing injuries (Fleddermann 163). However, the Thiokol engineers allowed NASA to continue with the launching program albeit with the knowledge of the potential risks.

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Engineers in managerial positions as a factor that resulted in the disaster

The engineers’ involvement in the managerial position in NASA was not the reason for the project failure. Like other professionals, engineers can make good managers; however, the problem arose from the ignorance and professional battles within the organization. The project required high degree of perfectness for successful launching. Therefore, it could have been prudent to give the Thiokol engineers enough time to finish the field design before launching; unfortunately, NASA engineers were impatient for they wanted to beat the set deadline. If I were an engineer working in a management position, I would have emphasized safety first.

Works Cited

Fleddermann, Charles. Engineering ethics, New York: Prentice Hall, 2012. Print.

Harris, Charles, Michael Pritchard, Michael Rabins, Ray James, and Elaine Englehardt. Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases, New York: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Vaughan, Diane. The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Print.

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