The Challenger Disaster Taught Us Nothing

Some years back in the early morning hours an engineer in charge of testing the engines for the Space Shuttle announced that because of the cold weather there might be a problem and that NASA should wait until it was warmer before launching. The Flight Directors at NASA then inquired if the contractor was admitting that they had not meet the specifications as detailed. That caused the contractor to recant their warning and an hour later Challenger when up in flames.

After it was disclosed that the engineer saw there were problems, but the company had not yet been fully alerted nor fixed the problem, but did push to advise NASA of the potential problem (which was ignored), it was decided that a special team needed to be on hand at NASA that included an astronaut. Special rules were devised so that a problem like this would not occur again.

So what happened with Columbia?

It has now been revealed that e-mails from Robert Daugherty, a safety engineer that:

"Apparently the current official estimate of damage is 7 inches by 30 inches... One of the bigger concerns is the gouge may cross the main gear door thermal barrier and permit a breach there. No way to know of course."

NASA Directors apparently still thought it was safe with a gash estimated to be this size to bring down the craft! Where was the safety team that is supposed to oversee these things – that was to include an astronaut – and why did they make this decision and was there indeed an astronaut on the committee to watch out for the safety of those brave people on the ship?

There is a space station up there. We have more shuttles. Why didn’t the astronauts just stay up there and we launch another ship to pick them up? Columbia could have been junked or two or three astronauts could have volunteered to bring it down at a later date with a full assessment of the damage.

And why wasn’t that done? We walk in space. We repair things in space. We built the space station. Why didn’t someone go outside and look at Columbia showing the ground damaged areas via television camera?

Once again, why are Earthbound “Directors” and “Administrators” calling the shots over the cries of engineers who are charged with knowing all about the craft and fixing what goes wrong?

Did we learn nothing from the Challenger disaster? Will we finally learn to listen to the cries of those who build these ships and use more common sense in the future?

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