Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Talk about your deadly management mumbo-jumbo...

I saw this at Kevin Baker's place. A specific phrase made me go, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?" So I went a-googling, and found this:

The Rogers commission confirmed the cause of the Challenger disaster explosion to have been caused by a leak through the faulty O-ring seal in one of the solid rocket boosters. According to testimony by Morton-Thiokol engineer Boisjoly, management put pressure on the engineers to OK the launch saying: “Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat.” The recommendation was reversed, discounting the concern about the O-rings as being “inconclusive” and launch was recommended, “based on their engineering assessment”, even though the engineers had no part in this recommendation. In spite of concerns expressed by others, NASA managers decided to approve the boosters for launch despite the fact that the predicted launch temperature was outside of their operational specifications and any test conditions.

Wow. Just, wow. "Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat." I just really don't know what to make of that. I'd have been thinking, and probably saying out loud, "Hey, Sparky, if we take off our engineering hats, PEOPLE COULD DIE." Particularly gruesome deaths too, as from what I've read in other places, the astronauts likely survived until they hit the waters of the Atlantic. I haven't a clue as to whatever became of those managers, but with that kind of callous disregard for the safety of the Challenger astronauts I am inclined to think that public hangings would have been too good for them. For all I know this point I am about to make could have been made back then, but I can't help but think the fact that the concern about the O-rings was there at all should have been enough to scrub the launch. I thought the only way the engineers would have given things the green light is if they were absolutely sure the components would have been able to withstand the stresses they'd have been subjected to. And I didn't think that those concerns being "inconclusive" equated to being absolutely sure, especially when people's lives were at stake. I thought in a field like that there would have been strictly-adhered-to higher standards, economic and political considerations be damned. Perhaps things have changed since then, but still a question comes to mind... there anything it can't fuck up?