Challenger Disaster. The tragic incident of Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy took place on 28th January, 1986. The dramatic series of incidents happened as the NASA’s orbiter Space Shuttle Challenger bust and was disintegrated after 73 seconds from its departure from the launch pad. The incident led to the tragic death of all the seven astronauts on board. The disaster is considered to be a determining milestone that lit up a lot of discussions regarding the ethical aspects of space missions and work-related threats of people involved in space missions.
The Reason Behind the Challenger Disaster
As per available information about the disaster and the information given by NASA, the disintegration of the space shuttle triggered after a main O-ring seal in the solid rocket booster (SRB) placed in the right area failed to fire. The failure in the O-ring resulted in a breach at the solid rocket booster joint sealed by the O-ring. This in turn permitted the pressurized sizzling gases from inside the SRM (solid rocket motor) to arrive at the outer surface and thus impacting upon the nearby located associated components of the SRB mechanics and the exterior energy reservoir. This series of incidents resulted in the disconnection of the back side attachment located near the SRB in the right side of the shuttle and the structural malfunction of the exterior fuel tank. As the situation escalated to this extent, the aerodynamic forces also stated to come into play and it stated to disintegrate the orbiter.
The Crew Had No Options to Escape
At the time of launching Challenger, there were no options pre-planned for the crew to escape a potential mission disaster. Launch flee arrangements were well thought-out numerous times all through shuttle development process, but NASA concluded that the space shuttle already has high reliability standards, and any chances of a potential disaster that involved a situation to ensure the safety in a critical condition was completely ruled out. The most worth mentioning fact is that, during that period, the NASA considered offering a launch disaster survival structure for a big team as unwanted due to “Low utility, practical complication and extreme expense in dollars, or program delays.
There were many arguments connecting security and ethics which were brought out when we evaluate the verdict to launch the Challenger mission. Noticeably, the circumstances on 28th Jan 1986 were unsafe in many aspects. Many experts still wonder about the decision to operate the launch on a day when temperature was nearly freezing. The questions on ethical aspects are even more complex. If top principles of ethical behavior are to be implemented, then every individual must distinguish between values that are categorized as right and wrong. They must also pursue the route which is unwavering to be the correct one or ethically apt path. Some of the major ethical concerns highlighted by the Challenger disaster are as mentioned below.
Ethics in Using Solid Rocket Boosters: Challenger Disaster
Is it ethical to use SRB (solid rocket boosters) which are potentially dangerous on manned spacecraft? If they are not safe then how did it got fitted on the Challenger?
Was human safety ignored for political adequacy while designing the Challenger Space Shuttle?
Did the stress to accomplish result in too many unrealized promises being given to the nation and its people in the design of the Space Shuttle?
Was the tight launch schedule a reason for compromising security in the launch date choice?
Did the Technicians at Morton Thiokol and Rockwell do everything under their control to prove to their own administration at NASA regarding the risks of the launch?
As the NASA pushed its team for the launch, did it infringe its liability to guarantee the safety of the crew?
Was the crew safety considered while planning a risky mission even in extreme bad weather?
As per the Code of Ethics recommendations set forth by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), security, fitness, and welfare of the society are the most important factor to be considered. If engineers’ decision is bypassed under conditions that cause danger to existence or to possessions, they should inform the same to their superiors or clients and similar authorities as might be suitable. In the Challenger disaster, these attributes were not considered and hence the same got prime attention after the disaster took place. As per the NSPE code of ethics, if Engineers have prior information regarding any kind of suspected infringement of the Code should inform immediately to the most suitable specialized organizations and, when pertinent, should also inform the same to civic establishments.
After the tragic collapse of Challenger space shuttle, NASA and other independent investigators took a critical gaze at the safety aspects of both the space shuttle as well as the series of happenings which permitted the launch of the space shuttle. NASA took remedial steps to redesign vulnerabilities in its designs and has now added a capture function on the mission critical field joints. The 3 chief Marshall Officers fully accountable for permitting the SRB issues to go in-rectified leaved NASA soon after the disaster. In the modern times, the crew members themselves are very much involved in many critical aspects of major space missions.
However, even after planning several aspects to make space missions safer, the Columbia Disaster took place in 2003 during its re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. This incident once again triggered the ethical aspects of space missions and how insecure human lives are in a space vehicle. Many professionals studying the ethical aspects of space missions highlighted the need for ensuring operational temperatures of components and safety regulations for components being used in development of space shuttles. Since space shuttles make fewer numbers of flights as compared to commercial aircrafts their reliability is more or less theoretical, and negative environmental factors can have a dramatic impact over their performance.
The Challenger Disaster is a black mark to the human space exploration initiatives due to ethical issues associated with it and the resultant loss of seven valuable lives.