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Launching the Space Shuttle Challenger: disciplinary deficiencies in the analysis of engineering data

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1 Author(s)
Lighthall, F.F. ; Dept. of Educ., Chicago Univ., IL, USA

Published and archival testimony of participants in the decision to launch the Challenger Space Shuttle and new lessons from the decision process for engineering training and engineering managers are analyzed. Examination of interview testimony, published hearings, and tabular data examined by the decision participants at the time of the Challenger launch shows that analysis of data and reasoning were flawed and that the flaws are attributable in large measure not to personal or even organizational failings but rather to a professional weakness shared by all participants. The professional weakness is either curricular or instructional: a gap in the education of engineers. Simple analysis of field data available to both Morton-Thiokol and NASA at launch time and months before the Challenger launch are presented to show that the arguments against launching at cold temperatures could have been quantified, but were not quantified, to the point of predicting degrees of component failure beyond those held by decision participants to be safe

Published in:

Engineering Management, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:38 ,  Issue: 1 )

Date of Publication:

Feb 1991

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