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The purpose of the report is to capture the project’s lessons
learned for use by other similar future projects to determine the problems that
occurred and how those problems were handled and may be avoided in the future. This
report will give information about the overview of the Space Shuttle Challenger
Disaster with supporting graphics and explanation. In addition, this document details
the lessons learnt from the project failures, evaluation and
recommendation of the project’s failure for future projects. 


1.     NASA
Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Overview

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Shortly before noon on January 28th, 1986, the
Space Shuttle Challenger took off with seven astronauts on board. Among them
were five career astronauts who would conduct some of these experiments and two
payload specialists. The space shuttle mission had several items on its agenda.
Among them was the Spartan?Halley satellite to monitor Halley’s Comet and the conducting
of experiments in fluid dynamics and phase partitioning. Lift-off started at 11:38
am local time and progress as expected. However, it explodes 73 seconds after

Figure 1.1 The O-ring

According to
a scenario, hot gases escaped the seal in two stages. At the process of
ignition, they bored through a ring of putty and portions of two rubber
gaskets, creating a thick black cloud of smoke clearly visible in photographs. The
remains of the first of the gaskets may then have “seated’ in the joint,
but only until 59 seconds into the flight, when a rapid built up of pressure
and abruptly changing the forces to jarred them loose, and the hot gases
escaped. Eventually, it weakened the attachment to the main fuel tank which
results in an explosion. (R. Jeffrey Smith, 1986)

Figure 1.2
The Space Shuttle

After this incident President Ronald Reagan launched an
official investigation (the Rogers Commission) to examine the cause. Firstly, the Rogers Commission
found that the disaster was caused by a malfunction of the O?rings used to seal a joint in the right
Solid Rocket Booster (SRB), one of STS’ primary sources of thrust. It was found
that the O?ring
malfunction was related with the extremely low temperatures at launch that had
never been experienced by NASA’s other mission.

The Rogers Commission also identified communication failure
between engineers and managers across the multiple organizations, as a
contributing cause of the accident. The Rogers Commission Report (which the
authors refer to as “RCR, 1986”) recommended not only a re?design of the joint seals, but also an
overhauling of organizational communication and structures within NASA.

Figure 1.3 Joint Rotation

Managers and engineers at the three NASA organizations and
Thiokol were aware of, but did not consider a threat. ‘At 1977, during the
tests engineers at Thiokol discovered a problem known as “joint rotation”. However,
they did not believe that joint rotation would cause significant problems, but
when they reported it to MSFC (Marshall
Space Flight Center) , engineers there
thought just the opposite ‘(Ajith Kumar J., Amaresh Chakrabarti, 2012). MSFC engineers recommended a redesign of the joint,
with specific suggestions. However, Thiokol did not consider a redesign
necessary (Ajith Kumar J., Amaresh Chakrabarti, 2012).

In November 1981, after the flight of STS?2, the Thiokol engineer discover the
O-ring erosion caused by hot gasses. However, when the STS 41?B flew in February 1984, the engineers
found stronger evidence of erosion along with an accompanying problem known as
blow?by, wherein greasy soot accumulates on
the O?rings (Ajith Kumar J., Amaresh
Chakrabarti, 2012). This problem was immediately reported to MSFC engineers, but
they didn’t consider it as a huge threat (RCR, 1986, Chapter 4, p. 11). The erosion problem
was also brought to the management at MSFC, but never became a concern.

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