The Space Shuttle Challenger Engineering Ethics

Synopsis Space Shuttle Challenger

One of the most serious cases associated with engineering lapses is the case of Space Shuttle challenger. Morton Thiokol engineers at NASA constructed the Space Shuttle Challenger that went into flames and ashes immediately after its departure due to the O-ring fault (Dunbar 545). Engineers in the United States developed booster rockets in cylindrical sections before transporting them through the rail to Florida for assemblage at the Kennedy Space Center.

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The serious explosion led to the loss of seven crewmembers (Mason 128). On January 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the air, which made Americans to question the credibility of manufacturers and engineers involved in the assemblage. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States launched an investigation to unveil the probable causes of the explosion (Dunbar 545). They unveiled that Morton Thiokol engineers constructed substandard O-rings using rubber-like materials and placed them between each cylindrical segment to prevent escape of the fuel gases.

Most engineers normally concur with the notion that uncertainty in engineering practice is almost inescapable and normally unforeseen despite advancements in technologies (Dunbar 545). However, the increasing demand for engineers, who engineer commercial products, is putting the professional engineering standards at stake. NASA concluded that the rubber-like O-rings became elastic at low temperatures during flight and could not seal the gas segments effectively. The use of substandard materials in manufacturing of products in the engineering field breaches professional engineering standards (Mason 132).

The engineering practices involved in the manufacture of the Space Shuttle Challenger were marred by ethical and moral lapses in both NASA and the Morton Thiokol engineers. Unfortunately, in the last several decades, NASA, as a national agency of ensuring professional engineering standards, has lowered its standards meant for coping with risks (Mason 137). Morton Thiokol engineers seemed aware of the beneficiaries of that particular modification, but allowed individual interests of management to prevail.

Whistle blowing: Roger’s Testimony Space Shuttle Challenger

Roger Boisjoly was one of the engineers who questioned the launching of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The NASA engineers and the Morton Thiokol engineers had earlier ignored the warnings that Roger Boisjoly issued against the launching of the Space Shuttle Challenger (Dunbar 540).

Roger and his colleague Arnie Thompson based on their expertise in O-rings warned the group of engineers several times about the use of the rubber-like O-rings to seal the cylindrical joints would one day fail at freezing temperatures (Mason 135). Roger was an effective engineer, who maintained and advised other engineers and engineering students about the ethical decision-making process. According to Mason, Rogers Commission Report released immediately after the explosion concluded that, “the decision to launch the Challenger was flawed’’ (135). Thus, unethical decision-making process contributed to the accident. Whistle blowing entails the exposure of organizational misconduct or malpractice. Roger’s act of testifying to the presidential commission constituted a whistle blowing action.

Rogers practiced external whistle blowing. External whistle blowing involves revelation of a misconduct or malpractice of a company outside the organizational and beyond control the control of superiors (Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins 147). Rogers unveiled the secret behind the controversial release of the Space Shuttle Challenger to the topmost authority and ignored the supervisory management of his Morton Thiokol Engineers Company and NASA officials (Mason 129).

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According to Richard DeGeorge one of the early theorists, whistle blowing is morally acceptable if the harm associated with malpractice has serious public implications (Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins 180). Roger was an engineer, who believed in ethical-decision making processes, but the continuous negligence exhibited by NASA and Morton Thiokol engineers led to Space Shuttle Challenger catastrophe from the rubber-like O-rings (Bugliarello 15). Although the tragedy was unforeseen, utilitarian theory argues that the morality of an action lies in the proper assessment of the consequences of the intended actions.

Case of Environmental Contamination

As the field of engineering grows, operational challenges increase, and sometimes neither professional engineering standards nor independent company standards prove efficient to counter environmental contamination issues (Bugliarello 15). “In engineering, the ethical problems are more nebulous because of the myriad purposes, methods, and consequences involved in modifications of nature and the creation of machines” (Bugliarello 15).

Issues of legal discharge of chemicals into water bodies are becoming frequent. Few engineering companies have effective standards of protecting the ecological systems in the world (Bugliarello 16). Basing on professional opinions and respect accorded to legal and standards of environmental protection, working in organizations requires an independent moral obligation of an engineer to protect the environment and its components (Uff 56). Engineers must work towards enhancing environmental standards and produce machines that maintain environmental friendliness (Bugliarello 17). Engineers should independently ensure that the company complies with relevant ecological protection principles despite the inadequacy of environmental standards, which control discharge chemicals into the environment.

Theoretically, engineers can do quite a lot to avert the ethical problems associated with the engineering realm. Theorists of engineering ethics believe that engineers can use numerous approaches in solving ethical issues (Hubertz 102). Whereas it is important to have the engineering field technologically growing, international standards of manufacturing machines and issues concerning environmental protections are important, and thus engineers cannot undermine (Bugliarello16). Professional engineering ethics and standards are barely enough to push engineers to enhance environmental protection (Whitbeck 10).

Utilitarian theory encourages engineers to practice the principle of goodness instead of practicing unethical actions that result in catastrophic repercussions. Ethical principles of engineering hold that people do good things because they have intrinsic values that guide their moral thinking (Uff 66). Ethical principles and values of engineering postulate that engineers must understand that acting with wisdom and good judgment is essential in professional practices.

Moral Obligation

Engineering is a growing industry that is frequently marred with several ethical implications. Although machine manufacturing is important for human development, it is a moral and professional obligation of engineers to enhance ecological safely. Whereas accidents are normally unforeseen and inevitable, utilitarian theorists believe that uprightness of any action requires an appraisal of the consequences.

It is unreasonable and unprofessional for engineers to ignore basic ethical principles that govern the field of engineering knowing well that the field also depends on ecological stability to survive in its operations. Professional engineering standards, ethical principles, and legal norms all have centered their efforts on improving the engineering practices, but individual behaviors controlled by personal interests and the politicized global industrialization are threatening the ecosystems. Any rational person does not have any personal interests, and any rational engineer must have efficient knowledge about science, human psychology, and societal issues.

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It is important for all engineers, who develop modern machines, to respect and uphold legal practices, engineering standards, and ethical principles of engineering. Secondly, it is important to understand that individual accountability and respect for the ecosystem is essential, as engineers have the moral obligation to maintain environmental safety. Finally, it is imperative to develop independent quality assurance systems to oversee engineering practices and enhance engineering standards. Fundamentally, engineers are humans, who develop machines from natural inputs, develop the machinery for progressive use, and depend on ecosystem for social and professional development. Upholding the ethical principles and making rational decisions about our ecosystem, especially the marine life is important. Fishes are part of the marine ecosystem, which contributes to human life and existence of other creatures within various ecosystems.

Works Cited

Bugliarello, George. “Machines, Modifications of Nature, and Engineering Ethics.” National Academy Of Engineering 32.3 (2002): 14-17.Print.

Dunbar, Scott. “Emotional Engagement in Professional Ethics.” Science and Engineering Ethics, 11.4 (2005): 535-551. Print.

Harris, Charles, Michael Pritchard, and Michael Rabins. Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases (4th ed.). Cengage Learning. Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Hubertz, Elizabeth. “Public interest, professional bargains: Ethical conflicts between lawyers and professional engineers.” Journal of Law & Policy, 31.1 (2009):

83-119. Print.

Mason, Richard. “Lessons in Organizational Ethics from the Columbia Disaster: Can a Culture be Lethal?” Organizational Dynamics 33.2 (2004):128-142.Print.

Uff, John. Engineering Ethics: Do engineers owe duties to the public? London: The Royal Academy of Engineers, 2002. Print.

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Whitbeck, Caroline. Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

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