Morton Thikol: The Challenger Disaster

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On the unusually cold morning of January 28th, 1986, millions of Americans watched, in-person and on live television, with wonder and awe as the Challenger space shuttle launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Many were excited to see the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, launch into space. But tragically, 72 seconds after liftoff, the space shuttle exploded over the Atlantic Ocean for the entire world to see. The Challenger space shuttle, and the millions of dollars used to create it, was a complete loss. Much more importantly, crew members, Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, were all killed. Following the disaster, a large investigation ensued. NASA…show more content…
First, in 1977, Morton Thikol found a joint rotation issue during a round of testing. Morton Thikol informed NASA and implemented design changes in order to fix the problem. A second problem was discovered in November of 1981. Following post-flight inspections, it was found that the O-rings within the booster field joints were eroding during flight. Then, on January 24th, 1985, the Challenger was launched during some of the coldest weather in Florida history. Post-flight examination of the booster joints revealed that actual gas blow-by was creating black soot and grease to accumulate on the booster casing. Because of this, Morton Thikol conducted research in order to study the effects of low temperatures on O-ring resiliency. As a result of issues within the original field joint, according to The Department of Philosophy and The Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, “In July 1985, Morton Thiokol ordered new steel billets which would be used for a redesigned case field joint. At the time of the accident, these new billets were not ready for Thiokol, because they take many months to manufacture” (Texas A&M University 4-5). Morton Thikol’s knowledge of issues with its rocket boosters is evident by its choice to redesign…show more content…
At the time of the disaster, the nation had a keen interest in keeping an edge over the European Space Agency and Russia in the Space Race. This was relevant because NASA wanted the Challenger launched on time in order to have the launch pad refurbished in time for their next mission. The next mission consisted of a probe that would be launched into space in order to retrieve data near Halley’s Comet. If the timetable could be achieved, NASA would have collected data from the comet a few days prior to the Russians, who were launching a similar probe. (Texas A&M University

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