Challenger Launch Decision
JOE KILMINSTER’S ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE CHALLENGER DISASTER
On January 28, 1986, the Challenger, one of the reusable space shuttle by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, was launched off at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida but exploded 72 seconds after liftoff. The launch was approved and ordered by the management of the Morton Thiokol, Inc., an aerospace company, that manufactures solid propellant rocket motors for big clients, including the NASA, and per NASA’s urging despite the objection of Morton Thiokol’s engineers that the 30-degree F. temperature was inclement to the shuttle’s boosters. The launch was a publicized event as NASA’s 25th mission and had a selected teacher, Christa McAulifee and six astronauts on board. All these passengers perished (Jennings 1996).
The launch was repeatedly postponed because the engineers of Thiokol notes the failure of an O. ring assembly in the rockets they used in tests conducted the previous year at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Utah. But because of political and economic motivations, the management of Thiokol yielded to the pressure from NASA and gave the go-signal to launch. Joe Kilminster, an engineer, and the Vice President or Space Booster Programs at Thiokol, was one of four management signatories who approved the launch and the author of the written recommendation that it was all right for the shuttle to fly (Jennings). Thiokol’s contract with the NASA provided that shuttles with boosters, like the Challenger, would function properly only within the range of 40 to 90 F. Its engineers also formalized their objection to such launch the day before the disaster.
What was the cause of the failure? Who were aware of the imminence of the failure? What steps were taken to prevent it, if any? Who is Joe Kilminster and how far was his accountability for the misfortune?
To answer these and related questions, the incident, the individuals involved and applicable laws should be understood, investigated and related. The damage was not limited to the explosion of the shuttle itself but extended to the death of the seven persons on board. Could and should the incident have been prevented? Was it within the power of Joe Kilminster to do so?
This study will recount the incident and go through the detailed background to identify the mechanical defect or defects that made the Challenger unfit for launch on January 28, 1986. It will review the organization setup of Morton Thiokol, the communications and the events that occurred previous to the explosion. In the process, the study will determine how far Joe Kilminster should be held accountable for the incident, based on his managerial capabilities and in accordance with the professional ethics for engineers to which he swore as a member of the profession.
The study will discuss the details from the organization level of the Morton Thiokol, the supervisory level, then the pre-conditional or immediate level, and the individual act of Joe Kilminster and those with whom he shared authority. The study is deemed quite significant in that it teaches a lesson that a technical problem should be handled by technical experts and that management should heed technical recommendations.
II. REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Jennings, MM. Summary of the Challenger Episode. Case studies in Business Ethics, second edition. West Publishing, 1996
This work provides ample background and information on the Challenger catastrophe, the people behind it, the events and the technical failure that led to the catastrophe. It zeroes in on the O. rings as the technical source, booster rockets manufactured by Morton Thiokol, Inc. For NASA specifically for the widely publicized January 28, 1986 launching event for which it held a nationwide search for a teacher to fly in it as NASA’s 25th space mission. The author, Jennings, writes that the launch was repeatedly delayed because of the booster problem, but NASA still called to ask if the shuttle could be flown even in a 30-degree F. Thiokol’s contract specified that the lowest temperature for the boosters was 40F. Thiokol engineers Allan McDonald and Rogers Boisjoly formally opposed the launch due to this technical problem.
Jennings relates that a presidential commission later, however, came up to say that management reversed its decision and, instead, gave the go-signal for the launch. One of the managers who reversed the former decision was Joe Kilminster, an engineer. He was Thiokol’s Vice President for Space Booster Programs. On his journal, Boisjoly wrote down his disagreement to, and disappointment over, some of Kilminster’s statements in the summary the latter made in approving the launch. Boisjoly also expressed apprehensions of a catastrophe, which, indeed happened only 72 seconds from liftoff of the shuttle.
After the incident, blame was placed squarely on Thiokol but Thiokol CEO disowned responsibility in that he never agreed to the launch under temperatures lower than those specified in its contract with NASA. He insisted that the matter should have been referred to its headquarters and he would not have given clearance. Since Boisjoly and McDonald testified, they had been isolated and later demoted or transferred to “special projects.” Later on, Boisjoly separated from Thiokol and now runs his own consulting firm and frequently speaks on business ethics before professional organizations and firms.
Jennings also recounts that, in 1989, the Morton partner of Thiokol separated but Thiokol remained under contract with NASA and redesigned the shuttle rocket motor to correct the defect. The author points out that no one was fired or prosecuted because of the Challenger accident. The only response was the creation of the Government Accountability Project in Washington DC, which provides legal assistance and materials to help advocates working on government projects.
Stubley, Gordon. Engineer and Integrity. The Objectivist Center, 1998
This work delves more into the details of the faulty O-ring seal that led to the Challenger explosion and which the author links with the carbon monoxide poisoning incident in the Taggart Tunnel disaster. Stubley writes that there was no reason to expect the O-rings to work. Right before the launch, the predicted temperature was 26 F. And 18 F. overnight. The situation was discussed at a teleconference among senior NASA administrators and four Thiokol executives, namely, senior vice president of aerospace division Jerald Mason, vice president and GM for space division Calvin Wiggins, Joe Kilminster, and vice president for engineering Robert K. Lund. After the engineering team presented evidence opposing a launch, Lund and Kilminster recommended its postponement until warmer air temperatures.
NASA administrators, however, were stunned and turned off by the recommendation, because they were then under severe pressure to prove the viability of their space shuttle program. Joe Kilminster sensed this pressure and asked to go off-line for five minutes. Apparently, there was a phone call during those five minutes, because when it ended, Mason announced that there had to be a management decision to overturn the engineers’ recommendation. Mason told Lund to take off his engineering hat and put on his management hat. The result was the disaster.
Vaughan, Diane. The Challenger Launch Decision. Paperback. University of Chicago Press, February 1996
The author, professor Diane Vaughan exposes the failures of investigation methods into two recent and prominent air crashes occurring in two organizations with solid reputation for high sensitivity to safety. She begins her own investigation from the NASA, the world’s most reputable in the field of risk assessment and operational safety until its fiasco on January 28, 1986. The givens were the findings of a presidential commission, the NASA itself, and a special subcommittee of the House of Representatives concluded that the accident was caused by a combination of production pressures and wrong managerial decision and viewed as a technical failure to which both the NASA and Thiokol contributed.
Vaughan uses her scholarly expertise in organizational ethics and misconduct in acquiring new data directly from the primary sources in determining and understanding the basis of the decision to launch. She interviewed the participants in the original “stream of decisions” and, in evaluating their actions and decisions in the chronological and cultural order, she came upon what she described as an “incremental descent into poor judgment.” She determines that it was not the managers’ amorally violating the rules that led to the accident but their conformity that did (p 138). She also says that this finding eluded investigators because they did not ask the right questions but simply made conventional conclusions, which, in turn, led to erroneous interpretations.
Vaughan offers insights into decision-making mechanisms in investigating organizational or managerial influences. In the Challenger disaster’s case, she points to NASA managers’ uncritical acceptance of deviance from established expectations and limits and the consequent normalization of deviations inclined or compelled them to approve the launch. She comes to realize that these limitations also lacked scientific basis in that they were derived from irrelevant and un-tested applications data. She also discovered that many aspects of the behavior of the solid rocket booster joint used for the Challenger were either unknown or un-recognized before the fatal launch.
Vaughan shares insights with investigators who hope to improve the results of their investigations in the search for preventive measures. They should approach the primary sources of decision in discovering what really happened and what institutional forces were considered. They should seek out direct links among actions and decisions made by primary sources and how these were influenced or programmed by operational, technical, financial and other managerial influences within and without. From there, the “decision stream” can be constructed in a chronological order around the time of the accident or event and against which the organization’s world view can be drawn.
She also suggests that investigators go through incomplete or erroneous system definitions, the existing knowledge of system operation and system performance and their roles in decision-making. They should choose a method that will enable them to discover, find and ask the right questions of those who made and influenced the decisions.
Most importantly, Vaughan’s discussion of causation deserves notice by those in charge of air safety investigation. She writes that all causal explanations have significant implications for control, whereby explanations for organizational failure that trace back to individual decision makers make quick remedies possible. These remedies include firing, transferring or retiring the erring person or persons; fixing the technological defect or error; implement control decisions; and proceed (p 392).
National Society of Professional Engineers. Code of Ethics for Engineers.
This Code of Ethics states that engineering is an important and learned profession and that engineers are to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Because the profession has a direct impact on the lives of people, engineers are sworn to practice honesty, impartiality, fairness and equity and to be dedicated to the protection of public health, safety and welfare. Engineers must observe and adhere to the highest principles of ethical conduct, whereby they must hold the safety, health and welfare of the public of paramount importance; perform services only within their areas of competence; issue public statements objectively and truthfully; act as faithful agents or trustees for each employer or client; avoid deceptive acts; and behave honorably, responsibly, ethically and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation and usefulness of the profession.
Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. Texas A & M. University
This was written by an anonymous contributor, who also volunteered details on the mechanical failure of the Challenger, a list of those involved in the launch decision and their probable motivations to the decision.
The unknown contributor points to the mechanical cause as the failure of the solid rocket booster or srb, in turn, due to technical defects, such as faulty design, insufficiently low temperature testing of the O-ring material, the sealing of the O-rings, and miscommunication among and between managerial levels at the NASA and Thiokol.
The contributor lists names and dates involved in the accident. McDonald was director of the Solid Rocket Motors Project and he had Roger Boisjoly and Robert Ebeling as engineers working under him; Bob Lund was Thiokol engineering vice president, Joe Kilminster as Thiokol’s vice president for space booster programs; and Jerald Mason as vice president and general manager for space division. The unknown author traces that NASA awarded the contract to Morton Thiokol in 1974; accepted Thiokol’s booster design in 1976; Morton Thiokol discovered the joint rotation problem in 1977 and the O-ring erosion problem after the second shuttle flight; Thiokol called attention to the worst O-ring accident in a shuttle flight on January 24, 1985 and ordered new steel billets for a new field joint design; Thiokol informed the first level management of NASA on the srb problem; a teleconference was held in the evening of January 27, 1986 to discuss and justify a launch despite the cold temperature; and, the following day, the Challenger was flown but exploded 72 seconds after lifting.
In addition, the contributor offers speculations on the influences and motivations behind the sudden change of decision to launch the Challenger.
III. FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
NASA managers were adequately and promptly informed about the un-suitability of the approved design of shuttle rocket boosters when used under temperatures below 40 F. per the contract signed with Morton-Thiokol. Thiokol engineers, true to their oath, formally recommended postponements of the launch until the weather improved. Chronological records show this and bear them out.
But NASA authorities were also subject to severe economic and political pressures, as well as schedule backlogs, at that time (Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering). Competition with the European Space Agency compelled NASA to embark in this ambitious flight to prove cost effectiveness and as a commercial potential. It tried to justify budget requests by launching a number of missions that year. It did not want any more delays so that it could collect data a few day before another Russian project could be sent. It can also be inferred that NASA wanted to time the Challenger with then President Regan’s State of the Union address, which focused on education and honored the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.
Knowing the technical problem with the boosters as early as in 1977, Thiokol initiated redesign efforts in 1985 and informed NASA leaders about the move. Thiokol ordered new steel billets for a new design, but these were not ready in January 1986 when the accident occurred, as it took several months to manufacture (Department of Philosophy and Mechanical Engineering).
The critical element was the teleconference between the engineers and managers at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Alabama and Thiokol in Utah to explore the performance of the boosters in that cold weather. Lund endorsed his engineers’ recommendation not to launch the shuttle but Mulloy first tried to challenge the position and arguments of the engineers, then bypassed Lund by asking Joe Kilminster, a middle manager, for his comments instead. Kilminster had extensive engineering background and was duly informed of the risks of a launch in that temperature. He was also subject to the decisions made by Lund, his superior, and to the ethical standards of his profession.
Instead of upholding his superior’s decision, his fellow professionals’ technical findings and recommendations and observing is profession’s code of ethics, Joe Kilminster subjected himself to the pressure of NASA and asked for a five-minute recess during which he could find rationalization for a decision to proceed with the launch. During that brief intermission, Kilminster joined Mason in “taking off his engineer’s hat and in putting on a manager’s hat (Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering).”
Conclusively, Kilminster became accountable for writing out a new recommendation to proceed with the launch and got back to the teleconference and stated that, while the low temperature was a safety concern, their people said that the original data were inconclusive and that their engineering assessment was recommended. The truth was that the engineers were excluded from the decision made to proceed with the launch.
Kilminster becomes immediately and morally accountable and culpable for the disaster by ignoring what he himself as an expert engineer knew and what his subordinate professionals strongly recommended on the basis of technical knowledge. He also violates the professional code of ethics for engineers, which obligates him to put the welfare of the public above all personal considerations and to conduct himself honorably, responsibly, ethically and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation and usefulness of his profession (National Society of Professional Engineers). Kilminster yielded to Mason and NASA officials’ pressure despite the firmness of his boss, Lund, and their engineers. And despite the firm position of Lund, Kilminster asked for a time-out off the teleconference to look for rationalizations to reverse their decision not to launch.
In the least, Kilminster is/was guilty of insubordination and un-professionalism. At most, he knowingly and directly risked the lives of seven persons inside the Challenger.
Benner, L. (1996). The Challenger Launch Decision by Diane Vaughan. Book Review, International Society of Air Safety Investigators: ISASI Forum. http://www.ipri.org/Reviews/Vaughan.html
Jennings, MM. (1996). Summary of the “Challenger” Episode. Case Studies in Business Ethics, second edition. West Publishing. http://www.calbaptist.edu/dskubik/nasa.htm
Stubley, G. (1998). Engineers and Integrity. The Objectivist Center. http://www.ios.org/tex/gstubley_engineers-integrity.asp
Vaughan, D. (1996). The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA.. Paperback. University of Chicago Press.
1997). Targets for Fire-Fighting: Lessons from the Challenger Tragedy. Association of Wildland Fire: Wildfire
Engineering Ethics. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. http://www.connix.com/~harry/shuttle1.htm
Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?
Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.
Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.
Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.
While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.
Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.
In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.
Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.
We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!
We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.
Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.
We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.
Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.
There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.
Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.
We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.
You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.
We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.
You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.
Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.
You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.
The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.
PLACE THIS ORDER OR A SIMILAR ORDER WITH US TODAY!!!
We provide professional writing services to help you score straight A’s by submitting custom written assignments that mirror your guidelines.
Get result-oriented writing and never worry about grades anymore. We follow the highest quality standards to make sure that you get perfect assignments.
Our writers have experience in dealing with papers of every educational level. You can surely rely on the expertise of our qualified professionals.
Your deadline is our threshold for success and we take it very seriously. We make sure you receive your papers before your predefined time.
Someone from our customer support team is always here to respond to your questions. So, hit us up if you have got any ambiguity or concern.
Sit back and relax while we help you out with writing your papers. We have an ultimate policy for keeping your personal and order-related details a secret.
We assure you that your document will be thoroughly checked for plagiarism and grammatical errors as we use highly authentic and licit sources.
Still reluctant about placing an order? Our 100% Moneyback Guarantee backs you up on rare occasions where you aren’t satisfied with the writing.
You don’t have to wait for an update for hours; you can track the progress of your order any time you want. We share the status after each step.
Although you can leverage our expertise for any writing task, we have a knack for creating flawless papers for the following document types.
Although you can leverage our expertise for any writing task, we have a knack for creating flawless papers for the following document types.
From brainstorming your paper's outline to perfecting its grammar, we perform every step carefully to make your paper worthy of A grade.
Hire your preferred writer anytime. Simply specify if you want your preferred expert to write your paper and we’ll make that happen.
Get an elaborate and authentic grammar check report with your work to have the grammar goodness sealed in your document.
You can purchase this feature if you want our writers to sum up your paper in the form of a concise and well-articulated summary.
You don’t have to worry about plagiarism anymore. Get a plagiarism report to certify the uniqueness of your work.
Join us for the best experience while seeking writing assistance in your college life. A good grade is all you need to boost up your academic excellence and we are all about it.
We create perfect papers according to the guidelines.
We seamlessly edit out errors from your papers.
We thoroughly read your final draft to identify errors.
Work with ultimate peace of mind because we ensure that your academic work is our responsibility and your grades are a top concern for us!
Dedication. Quality. Commitment. Punctuality
Here is what we have achieved so far. These numbers are evidence that we go the extra mile to make your college journey successful.
We have the most intuitive and minimalistic process so that you can easily place an order. Just follow a few steps to unlock success.
We understand your guidelines first before delivering any writing service. You can discuss your writing needs and we will have them evaluated by our dedicated team.
We write your papers in a standardized way. We complete your work in such a way that it turns out to be a perfect description of your guidelines.
We promise you excellent grades and academic excellence that you always longed for. Our writers stay in touch with you via email.