The lessons of the Challenger investigations

TitleThe lessons of the Challenger investigations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsDombrowski, PM
JournalProfessional Communication, IEEE Transactions on
Date Published1991
Publication Languageeng
ISBN Number0361-1434
KeywordsAerospace , Challenger , ENGINEERING , fabrication , Helium , investigating , methodological , NASA , O-ring , personal , professional , SOCIAL , socially , Space , Structural , Testing
AbstractIt is pointed out that, both in methodology and in findings, the investigations of the Challenger disaster by a Presidential Commission and by a Congressional committee demonstrate that even in highly technical matters meaning is socially constructed. The author examines the evidence and testimony before the investigating bodies and finds that, before the launch, NASA officials construed information about O-ring charring in socially contingent ways and ultimately pressed engineers to work under similar assumptions in declaring the shuttle flightworthy. Although the two investigations examined much the same evidence, differing methodological assumptions led them to different conclusions and recommendations. It is found that both investigations emphasized procedural concerns while largely neglecting personal judgment and responsibility, even though the evidence suggests a key role for personal and social judgment.