Chapter 5 – Case Studies

Case Study – Space Shuttle Challenger

Please see the earlier section in this textbook that gives more background on this disaster.

Introduction to the Case

On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts were killed when the space shuttle they were piloting, the Challenger, exploded at just over a minute into the flight. The failure of the solid rocket booster O-rings to seal properly allowed hot combustion gases to leak from the side of the booster and burn through the external fuel tank. The failure of the O-ring was attributed to several factors, including faulty design of the solid rocket boosters, insufficient low-temperature testing of the O-ring material and of the joints that the O-ring sealed, and lack of proper communication between different levels of NASA management.


Here are a list of case studies relating to this incident

posted this case study in The Engineer  on October 24, 2006

Adapted from material by the Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering  at Texas A&M University   NSF Grant Number DIR-9012252

Key Issues

How does the implied social contract of professionals apply to this case? 
What profressional responsibilities were neglected, if any? 
Should NASA have done anything differently in their launch decision procedure?



Texas A&M Univerisity Case Studies


American Society for Engineering Education Case 2014 Study…/2013-Paper-ASEE-Shuttle.pdf

The Challenger Disaster: A Case of Subjective Engineering from the IEEE

From the IEEE archives: NASA’s resistance to probabilistic risk analysis contributed to the Challenger disaster


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To the extent possible under law, Jennifer Kirkey has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Engineering and Technology in Society - Canada, except where otherwise noted.

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