|Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center|
It has stuck with me as a sad day, not just because of the deaths of those on board and the reminder of the darker side of being an adventurous species. But because there was evidence that they shouldn't be launching at all in weather that cold.
This evidence was presented prior to launch by an engineer, Roger Boisjoly, who worked for a NASA contractor Thiokol. NPR released an article almost five years ago, shortly after Roger Boisjoly's death. He and other engineers forcefully argued on January 27, 1986 to delay the launch, but NASA was "appalled" by the recommendation and the Thiokol management overruled the engineers apparently under the pressure from NASA. The launch proceeded as scheduled the next morning.
"Then, a few seconds later, the shuttle blew up. And we all knew exactly what happened."A few takeaways from this awful series of events that have impacted my career:
- Find a place to work where management behaves with integrity
- Find a place to work where management trusts the expertise of its engineers and will defer to their reasonable recommendations and predictions concerning this expertise
- We need to be attuned to pieces/features that are subject to failure and creatively think about the conditions under which they are likely to fail, especially when they're similar to conditions that the end user will be experiencing
- Communicate with my management and other internal stakeholders clearly about risks I see and speak with as much emphasis as I feel the risk is worth. I do my best to let things go that ultimately don't matter so that I'm more likely to get their attention when it does.
- I have never needed them and I don't foresee needing them in my current position, but I have a few extra levels of freakout in reserve for "this could kill people" or "this will likely kill people", where I imagine myself trying to change the minds of those in charge of a NASA launch/no launch type of decision at various temperatures.