Space Shuttle Challenger Launch DecisionOn January 28, 1986, at 11.38 am EST, the space shuttle Challenger was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission ended 73 seconds later when the Challenger disintegrated into a billowing cloud of fire and smoke. All seven crew members, including Christie McAuliffe ("America's teacher in space"), were killed in the explosion.
The Presidential Commission investigating the accident subsequently concluded that Challenger was destroyed after hot propellant gases flew past the aft joint of the shuttle's right solid rocket booster, burning through two synthetic rubber seal rings called O-rings, and vaporizing the seal. The Commission also concluded that "the decision to launch the Challenger was flawed." The House of Representatives conducted its own hearings and also concluded that "the fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel."
Why was it that, despite the elaborate procedures and standards that were put in place to control how risks were assessed and launch decisions were taken, despite the availability of information and data about the technical problems that eventually led to the explosion, and despite the warnings and objections about the risks and uncertainties presented by the particular conditions of the Challenger launch, the decision was made to proceed with the mission?
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