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Cem 310 Final Paper

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Challenger Disaster Research Paper Space Shuttle Challenger was first called as STA-­099, and was built as a test vehicle for the space program. But despite its Earth-­bound beginnings, STA-­099 was destined for space. In 1979, NASA awarded a contract to Rockwell, a space shuttle manufacturer to convert the STA-­099 to a space orbiter OV-­099. After completion of OV-­099, it arrived at the at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July 1982, bearing the name "Challenger." Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger was named after the British Naval vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870s. Challenger launched on her maiden voyage, STS-­6, on April 4, 1983. That mission saw the first spacewalk of the Space Shuttle program. The NASA had planned for a six day flight, and their mission was to release and retrieve one satellite to study Haley’s comet, and to launch another satellite that would become part of the space communications network. Challenger was originally set to launch from Florida on January 22nd. But delays in STS-­61-­C and bad weather caused it to reschedule to January 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 27th. On January 28th 1986, the space shuttle was set to take off, but the launch time was delayed due to problems with the exterior access hatch. So, after the huge delay, the space shuttle was finally launched at 11:38 am EST. The space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight. The Challenger fell into pieces over the Atlantic Ocean near Florida. Most of the fragments were recovered from the ocean after searching for weeks. Along with the fragments, some of the bodies of the crew members were also found. According to sources, the main reason for it to explode was because of a booster failure, also known as the O-­ring. The O-­ring failure caused a breach in the SRB joint it sealed, allowing pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB attachment hardware and external fuel tank. This led to the separation of the right-­hand SRBs aft attachment and the structural failure of the external tank.

The NASA had planned for a six day flight, and their mission was to release and retrieve one satellite to study Haley’s comet, and to launch another satellite that would become part of the space communications network. Challenger was originally set to launch from Florida on January 22nd. But delays in STS-­61-­C and bad weather caused it to reschedule to January 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 27th. On January 28th 1986, the space shuttle was set to take off, but the launch time was delayed due to problems with the exterior access hatch. So, after the huge delay, the space shuttle was finally launched at 11:38 am EST. The space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight. The Challenger fell into pieces over the Atlantic Ocean near Florida. Most of the fragments were recovered from the ocean after searching for weeks. Along with the fragments, some of the bodies of the crew members were also found. According to sources, the main reason for it to explode was because of a booster failure, also known as the O-­ring. The O-­ring failure caused a breach in the SRB joint it sealed, allowing pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB attachment hardware and external fuel tank. This led to the separation of the right-­hand SRBs aft attachment and the structural failure of the external tank.

This explosion resulted in the loss of seven astronauts: 1. Francis Scobee, aged 46, was the commander of the space shuttle challenger. According to New York daily news, “At T+68 into the mission, the CAPCOM Richard Covey informed the crew that they were "go at throttle up", and Commander Scobee confirmed the call -­ his last recorded words were his response, "Roger, go at throttle up." 2.Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher, was chosen from 11,146 teachers to become the first ordinary citizen in space. Her roles in the shuttle were to conduct experiments and teach lessons from the space. 3.Ronald McNair, a physicist from Harlem. He was also a musician, and was supposed to take part in a concert through live feed. Also, he was intended to record a saxophone solo on challenger, which would have been the first recorded music in space. 4.Greg Jarvis, aged 41, was a payload specialist. His role in the mission was to repair satellites. 5.Ellison Onizuka, a Japanese American astronaut. He was serving as a mission specialist for mission STS-­51-­L. 6.Judith Resnik, the second American female on board. Aged 36, she was in charge of the electrical material. 7.Michael Smith, aged 40, was the pilot of the space shuttle challenger.

All of the seven crew members were honored by the president of the United States. They were awarded with congressional space medal of honor and were inducted into the astronaut hall of fame. Unlike the shuttle Columbia, the challenger space shuttle was not equipped with ejection seats or other ways for the crew to get out. Although, It wouldn’t have made a difference. Shortly after the disaster, Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States, stated “This is truly a national loss;; we mourn seven heroes ... who escaped the surly bounds of Earth to touch the face of God." Work Cited­01-­28/news/27738208_1_pbs-­public-­television-­network-­ administrator-­for-­space-­flight-­shuttle-­schedule/3­info.html Mechanical Failures of the Challenger Shuttle The Challenger disaster could have been avoided if technical concerns were given serious consideration. Prior to the launch, mechanical problems were determined with the weather, the launch pad, and with the shuttle itself. Essentially, the shuttle exploded because of a loose joint which let pressurized gas escape. There were several other factors leading to the explosion before the rocket launched. First, scientists had deemed it too cold to launch the shuttle. After a series of reschedules, the shuttle was decided to be launched on January 28th, which forecasters predicted would be a particularly cold morning at 31 degrees Fahrenheit. This was already the minimum temperature that the shuttle could be launched at. Engineers at Morton Thiokol, the one of the main contractors in this project, held a teleconference with NASA the day before to discuss how the temperature would affect the launch. Thiokol claimed that at temperatures below 53 degrees Fahrenheit, the O-­rings were not guaranteed to work properly. These O-­rings were the part of the vehicle that would keep the solid rocket boosters sealed in place. Furthermore, this was considered a “Criticality 1” component, meaning that there was no backup if they malfunctioned and that their failure would lead to the destruction of the entire shuttle. Despite this, NASA argued that, since the vehicle was actually using two O-­rings (a primary and a backup) even if one did fail the other would effectively seal the joint—an unproven argument. Additionally, because of the cold weather, ice had formed on the structure beside the shuttle. Another of the shuttle’s contractors, Rockwell International were concerned that the ice might crack and hit the thermal protection tiles of the shuttle and believed that they should not launch the shuttle at all without fixing this problem. However, due to miscommunication between managers, they proceeded with the launch despite the uncertainties. The launch was merely

postponed an hour so the Kennedy Ice Team could perform further inspection. The shuttle launched at 11:38 EST. The flight of the shuttle was tracked using a telemeter, photographic analysis, and communication amongst crew members. Just before take-­off, the three space shuttle main engines were throttled up to 104 percent by computer control. The solid rocket boosters were ignited and the shuttle was released. At 0.678 seconds into the launch, unusually dark gray smoke was emitted from the right SRB and continued for about three seconds. These emissions were a result of the aft field joint opening and closing on the SRB. Too much pressure had built up from the ignition and the casing on the SRB was deformed, allowing gases over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit to escape in a process called extrusion. This was not a new occurrence;; however, in previous cases, the primary O-­ring would hold the seal in place. While extrusion occurred, the hot gases damaged the O-­ring and deteriorated its performance. The longer the process of extrusion took, the more damage accumulated. Additionally, the O-­rings were hardened by the low air temperature, which only prolonged extrusion. Also as a result of the primary O-­ring hardening, it could not seal soon enough to trap the gases. The secondary O-­ring failed because it was moved out of position by the SRB casing deforming. Both O-­rings were vaporized. A temporary seal was created by aluminum oxides from the burnt propellant, delaying the emission of the flame. All these events happened before the shuttle passed the tower. After rising above the tower, the SSME’s throttled down to slow the vehicle while going through the dense atmosphere. It later throttled back after 35 seconds and, at 19,000 feet, the shuttle passed Mach 1. At 51 seconds the SSME’s throttled back to the original 104 percent and Challenger exceeded Max Q (maximum aerodynamic pressure). At the same time, the shuttle passed through a strong wind shear which destroyed the aluminum oxide barrier. As there was no longer a mechanism to hold back the flames, a plume emerged from a hole in the right SRB at 58 seconds into the flight and reached the external tank. Because of this, the liquid hydrogen tank began to leak and became less pressurized. Thus far, neither the crew members nor the flight controllers had noticed a serious problem. At 72.28 seconds into the flight, the right SRB detached from the external tank and a sudden rightward acceleration was indicated by the telemeter. The last statement from the crew, “Uh-­oh,” was recorded. A second later, the liquid hydrogen tank failed and was propelled into the oxygen tank. The right SRB struck the external tank. At 73 seconds at an altitude of 48,000 ft, the external tank disintegrated and the Challenger was thrown off course by aerodynamic forces. Only the two SRB’s, which were cased in half-­inch-­thick metal, survived. There was no mechanism that would have allowed the crew to escape. The Challenger and the seven crew members landed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. A search and recovery team was sent immediately to retrieve the remains of the vehicle. Several communication failures came into play for the Challenger disaster. One of the most notable is from Roger Mark Boisjoly, an engineer who voiced his concern about faulty rocket design. He is noted for writing a memo mentioning this catastrophic design flaw that would later prove disastrous. In this form his memo was ignored for whatever reason being time, money, or some other pressure that caused them to ignore this warning. This leads up to

believing there were other factors that could have hampered communication such as managers and engineers viewing the same facts from different perspectives. Likely from this there was a difficulty in either sending or receiving bad news especially when it had to be passed to superiors or outsiders. The second notable communication failure is due to basic human nature. We are often unable to cope with bad news or able to properly convey it. This type of activity typically requires practice and in something as new as space shuttles, there was no preparation for knowing when bad news was really bad or just a warning. Bad news could often be covered up to seem more appealing to sponsors or because they didn’t know the full extent of the bad news. As seen from the memo there were at least two engineers who strongly opposed the launch of the shuttle as they were fully aware of the consequences of launching with faulty hardware. Boisjoly knew the consequences were very real and tried to his best without maliciously hampering the launch. Boisjoly had written the memo six months before the Challenger disaster and submitted it to Lund of Thiokol meaning the company directly in charge of Boisjoly ignored his warning of the worst possible outcome that was highly likely due to weather conditions. More documents including this memo were included to a presidential commission investigating the cause of the accident. Boisjoly did not stop with just a memo but continued and persisted in trying to delay the flight until better conditions or a change in design were created. On the night of Jan. 27, 1986, Mr. Boisjoly and four other Thiokol engineers used a teleconference with NASA to press the case for delaying the next day’s launching because of the cold. Boisjoly presented photos of a previous shuttle showing the damage that the cold weather did to the O-­ring and explained that the current temperature was colder than it was then and there would be more damage to them. Aside from the memo there were also two telephone conferences in which 34 engineers and managers participated and it was clearly explained that the temperature would be a problem as there was erosion at less than 75 degrees and the expected temperature for the schedules launch was 54 degrees. During the phone conference the managers discussed whether or not the information present warranted a delay or if the shuttle was good to go and as such a fax was sent showing full readiness and would continue to launch the next day with 36 degree temperatures. There was several opportunities for communication between engineers and managers and through verbal and written means from meetings, memos, and telephone conferences. However most of the communication appears to be between engineers, managers, and the project leads. There was little communication to the astronauts considering the possible danger they faced­boisjoly-­73-­dies-­warned-­of-­shuttle-­danger.html?_r =0

Communication about the cause of the Accident . The consensus of the Commission and participating investigative agencies is that the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger was caused by a failure in the joint between the two lower segments of the right Solid Rocket Motor. The specific failure was the destruction of the seals that are intended to prevent hot gases from leaking through the joint during the propellant burn of the rocket motor. The evidence assembled by the Commission indicates that no other element of the Space Shuttle system contributed to this failure. In arriving at this conclusion, the Commission reviewed in detail all available data, reports and records;; directed and supervised numerous tests, analyses, and experiments by NASA, civilian contractors and various government agencies;; and then developed specific scenarios and the range of most probable causative factors. A combustion gas leak through the right Solid Rocket Motor aft field joint initiated at or shortly after ignition eventually weaken and/or penetrated the External Tank initiating vehicle structural breakup and loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger during STS Mission 51-­L.The evidence shows that no other STS 51-­L Shuttle element or the payload contributed to the causes of the right Solid Rocket Motor aft field joint combustion gas leak. Sabotage was not a factor. Evidence examined in the review of Space Shuttle material, manufacturing, assembly, quality control, and processing on non-­conformance reports found no flight hardware shipped to the launch site that fell outside the limits of Shuttle design specifications. Launch site activities, including assembly and preparation, from receipt of the flight hardware to launch were generally in accord with established procedures and were not considered a factor in the accident. Launch site records show that the right Solid Rocket Motor segments were assembled using approved procedures. However, significant out-­of-­round conditions existed between the two segments joined at the right Solid Rocket Motor aft field joint (the joint that failed). While the assembly conditions had the potential of generating debris or damage that could cause O-­ring seal failure, these were not considered factors in this accident. The diameters of the two Solid Rocket Motor segments had grown as a result of prior use. The growth resulted in a condition at time of launch wherein the maximum gap between the tang and clevis in the region of the joint's O-­rings was no more than .008 inches and the average gap would have been .004 inches. With a tang-­to-­clevis gap of .004 inches, the O-­ring in the joint would be compressed to the extent that it pressed against all three walls of the O-­ring retaining channel. The lack of roundness of the segments was such that the small tang-­to-­clevis clearance occurred at the initiation of the assembly operation at positions of 120° degrees and 300° around the circumference of the aft field joint. It is uncertain if this tight condition and the resultant greater compression of the O-­rings at these points persisted to the time of launch. The ambient temperature at time

of launch was 36° F, or 15° lower than the next coldest previous launch. The temperature at the 300° position on the right aft field joint circumference was estimated 28° ± 5° degrees Fahrenheit. This was the coldest point on the joint. Temperature on the opposite side of the right Solid Rocket Booster facing the sun was estimated to be about 50°. Other joints on the left and right Solid Rocket Boosters experienced similar combinations of tang-­to-­clevis gap clearance and temperature. It is not known whether these joints experienced distress during the flight of 51-­L. Experimental evidence indicates that due to several effects associated with the Solid Rocket Booster's ignition and combustion pressures and associated vehicle motions, the gap between the tang and the clevis will open as much as .017 and .029 inches at the secondary and primary O-­rings, respectively. This opening begins upon ignition, reaches its maximum rate of opening at about 200-­300 milliseconds, and is essentially complete at 600 milliseconds when the Solid Rocket Booster reaches its operating pressure. The External Tank and right Solid Rocket Booster are connected by several struts, including one at 310° near the aft field joint that failed. This strut's effect on the joint dynamics is to enhance the opening of the gap between the tang and clevis by about 10-­20 % in the region of 300° – 320°. O-­ring resiliency is directly related to its temperature. A warm O-­ring that has been compressed will return to its original shape much quicker than will a cold O-­ring when compressions relieved. Thus, a warm O-­ring will follow the opening of the tang-­to-­clevis gap. A cold O-­ring may not. A compressed O-­ring at 75° F is five times more responsive in returning to its uncompressed shape than a cold O-­ring at 30° F. As a result, it is probable that the O-­rings in the right solid booster aft field joint were not following the opening of the gap between the tang-­to-­clevis gap at time of ignition. Experiments indicate that the primary mechanism that actuates O-­ring sealing is the application of gas pressure to the upstream (high-­pressure) side of the O-­ring as it sits in its groove or channel. For this pressure actuation to work most effectively, a space between the O-­ring and its upstream channel wall should exist during. A tang-­to-­clevis gap of .004 inches, as probably existed in the failed joint, would have initially compressed the O-­ring to the degree that no clearance existed between the O-­ring and its upstream channel wall and the other two surfaces of the channel. At the cold launch temperature experienced, the O-­ring would be very slow in returning to its normal rounded shape. It would not follow the opening of the tang-­to-­clevis gap. It would remain in its compressed position in the O-­ring channel and not provide a space between itself and the upstream channel wall. Thus, it is probable the O-­ring would not be pressure actuated to seal the gap in time to preclude joint failure due to blow-­by and erosion from hot combustion gases. The sealing characteristics of the Solid Rocket Booster O-­rings are enhanced by timely application of motor pressure. Ideally, motor pressure should be applied to actuate the O-­ring and seal the joint prior to significant

opening of the tang-­to-­clevis gap (100 to 200 milliseconds after motor ignition). Experimental evidence indicates that temperature, humidity and other variables in the putty compound used to seal the joint can delay pressure application to the joint by 500 milliseconds or more. This delay in pressure could be a factor in initial joint failure. Of 21 launches with ambient temperatures of 61° F or greater, only four showed signs of O-­ring thermal distress, blow-­by, and soot. Each of the launches below 61 degrees Fahrenheit resulted in one or more O-­rings showing signs of thermal distress. Of these improper joint sealing actions, one-­half occurred in the aft field joints, 20 % in the center field points, and 30 % in the upper field joints. The division between left and right Solid Rocket Boosters was roughly equal. Each instance of thermal O-­ring distress was accompanied by a leak path in the insulating putty. The leak path connects the rocket's combustion chamber with the O-­ring region of the tang and clevis. Joints that actuated without incident may also have had these leak paths. There is a possibility that there was water in the clevis of the STS 51-­L joints, since water was found in the STS-­9 joints during a de-­stack operation after exposure to less rainfall than STS 51-­L. At time of launch, it was cold enough that water present in the joint would freeze. Tests show that ice in the joint can inhibit proper secondary seal performance. A series of puffs of smoke were observed emanating from the 51-­Laft field joint area of the right Solid Rocket Booster between 0.678and 2.500 seconds after ignition of the Shuttle Solid Rocket Motors. The puffs appeared at a frequency of about three puffs per second. This roughly matches the natural structural frequency of the solids at lift off and is reflected in slight cyclic changes of the tang-­to-­clevis gap opening. The puffs were seen to be moving upward along the surface of the booster above the aft field joint. The smoke was estimated to originate at a circumferential position of between 270 ° and 315° on the booster aft field joint, emerging from the top of the joint. This smoke from the aft field joint at Shuttle lift off was the first sign of the failure of the Solid Rocket Booster O-­ring seals on STS 51-­L. The leak was again clearly evident as a flame at approximately 58 seconds into the flight. It is possible that the leak was continuous but unobservable or non-­existent in portions of the intervening period. It is possible in either case that thrust vectoring and normal vehicle response to wind shear as well as planned maneuvers reinitiated or magnified the leakage from a degraded seal in the period preceding the observed flames. The estimated position of the flame, centered at a point 307° around the circumference of the aft field joint, was confirmed by the recovery of two fragments of the right Solid Rocket Booster. A small leak could have been present that may have grown to breach the joint in flame at a time on the order of 58 to 60 seconds after lift off. Alternatively, the O-­ring gap could have been replaced by deposition of a fragile buildup of aluminum oxide and other combustion debris. This resealed section of the joint could have been disturbed by thrust

vectoring, Space Shuttle motion and flight loads inducted by changing winds aloft caused control actions in the time interval of 32 seconds to 62 seconds into the flight that were typical of the largest values experienced on previous missions.

To answer the question of whether or not the Challenger Disaster was the result of poorly made ethical decisions, we must look at the decisions made by NASA and Thiokol and determine if they were made because: A. It was the better choice or B. Because it was favorable by some other end. NASA was essentially working to please congress during this time period for continued funding. They promised congress that they would make shuttle flights routine and cheap by scheduling for up to twenty-­four shuttles to launch every year. However, NASA had encountered many problems during their work with the shuttle launches. Congress voiced their concerns and caused NASA officials to worry about the continued financial support from Congress. To even further embarrass NASA, the Columbia Shuttle’s launch was delayed a record seven times. This put an enormous amount of pressure on NASA to set up a successful launch soon to show Congress that they were making good progress. This pressure caused officials at NASA to make bad managerial decisions. The Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, John Young, said in his memo, “There is only one driving reason that such a potentially dangerous system would ever be allowed to fly – launch schedule pressure.” There was also some speculation about the White House also pressuring NASA to launch because the President’s State of the Union address was supposed to be held on the 28th and they were going to set-­up a live conversation between the president and the astronauts on the shuttle. All of these observations point to NASA managers making the decision to launch based on some other end. In this case, the other end was financial support from Congress so that they can continue their work. As for Thiokol, they were working to try to please NASA and word got out that NASA was looking for another source to supply them with SRMs (solid rocket motors). This put pressure on Thiokol managers to push for a quick launch date to please their customer, NASA. Roger Boisjoly was one of the engineers and played a large role in trying to convince Thiokol managers to not continue with the launch. He sent to Robert Lund, the Thiokol vice president, a letter voicing his concerns about the O-­ring problems and said that if they continued with the launch, “a catastrophe of the highest order – loss of human life” would result. A teleconference was later held with members of Thiokol, Marshall, and Kennedy meeting to discuss the problem with the erosion of the O-­rings. The Thiokol engineers at the conference tried to dissuade their managers to not approve the launch. Unfortunately, when a voting was held by four of the top people at the meeting on whether or not to continue with the launch, they unanimously voted to continue with the launch. Only Robert Lund hesitated to approve until his superior senior vice president, Jerry Mason, told him to “take of his engineering hat and put on his management hat.” If Thiokol wanted to

continue to be a major supporter of parts to NASA, they needed to satisfy NASA and continue with the launch. They took a chance and ultimately played a decisive role in the death of seven people that were aboard the Challenger. The engineers at both NASA and Thiokol also broke the National Society of Professional Engineer’s code of ethics. The very first code of ethics outlined by the NSPE states that engineers should hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Clearly, this code was broken when NASA and Thiokol decided to continue with the launch even after finding out that problems with the O-­rings could cause a loss of human life. They also broke the rule that states, “Engineers shall be guided in all their relations by the highest standards of honesty and integrity.” Although they did not technically lie to the astronauts, they deceived them by allowing them to ride a vehicle that had the possibility of a terrible disaster. There was also no reason for NASA and Thiokol to not warn the astronauts about the O-­ring problems because there was a back-­up group of astronauts that was ready to replace any of the main crew members in the event that they decide to not go through with the launch. The last rule that they broke was, “Engineers shall not be influenced in their professional duties by conflicting interests.” The other interest for both NASA and Thiokol were in pleasing their customers. As a result of their poorly made decisions, 7 people lost their lives and 5.5 billion dollars went to waste, making the Challenger Disaster one of the costliest accidents in the history of the world. For the Challenger explosion, NASA was well aware of the design flaws in the O-­ring designed by Morton Thiokol. The O-­ring was not perfectly round because the re-­usability of the solid rocket boosters had caused deformations. Managers were warned not to launch the vehicle in temperatures below 53 degrees Fahrenheit, but during the launch it was 36 degrees and there was ice on the launch pad. The explosion happened 73 seconds into the flight when the O-­ring seal failed during the liftoff. The solid rocket booster joint came loose and caused pressurized hot gas inside the motor to escape. The right-­hand solid rocket booster became detached and the fuel tank failed. The wind shear forces broke apart the shuttle. Managers decided to launch the Challenger even though the engineers said not to. One engineer opposed the launch and presented his findings to NASA, but he was ignored. NASA was focused more on rewards of a successful launch rather than the risks of an unsuccessful launch. NASA was the reason for the failure as well as the deaths of everyone on board of the Challenger. Whenever there is a flaw to the design, it should be fixed before launch is even considered. It is not worth the risk to gamble people’s lives for a greater gain. It ruined NASA’s reputation as well as set them back in launches after the Challenger. A Solution to preventing such a problem from happening again would require the government to regulate the situation. If there is any doubt at all about the shuttle whether it is a minor or major problem, the launch should be postponed until the problem is fixed. NASA needs to develop a more strict policy when it comes to getting approval for setting launch dates.

Sources­l/docs/rogers-­commission/table-­of-­contents.htm l December 12, 2012 Professor CSULB CEM 310 Final Project Dear We are submitting the report titled Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster to introduce recommendations for NASA to implement to prevent further disasters. This report’s purpose is to analyze the 1986 Challenger Disaster and the decisions that led up to the event. The report will give an overview of the events that happened before, during, and after the disaster.The report also reviews many of the weaknesses in NASA’s communication and management procedures and provide examples of NASA’s miscommunications so they may be

analyzed.The report also analyzes the many ethical issues that managers and engineers experienced before the launch, which led to taking risks that compromised the safety of the launch. After all the causes of the disaster are reviewed, we make our recommendations to NASA, and explain why they are essential for disaster prevention. Thank you for reading our report, and we all hope it meets your expectations! Sincerely yours,

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