Xah Lee's Unixism

Nick Landsberg SPAMhukolauTRAP at SPAMworldnetTRAP.att.net
Sun Sep 5 00:21:02 CEST 2004

Rupert Pigott wrote:


> Indeed, it could have failed in a way entirely unique to itself... :)
> The O-Ring thing had been identified, was preventable and should have
> been prevented. Sure, perhaps the design did suck, but the point is
> the whole disaster was trivially avoidable if the people running the
> show were willing to grasp the nettle.

Since we're so far off-topic here anyway ...

It has been so many years since the Challenger disaster
that memory fades (especially at my age), so bear with
me if a misremember something.

As I recall, the particular launch happened during
an unusual cold spell in Florida.  I also recall
that the investigation uncovered strong recommendations
by several senior engineers, prior to launch, that the launch
should be postponed because the system (shuttle and boosters)
had never been launched during those kinds of
weather conditions.  (It could very well be that they
might have pointed out the O-rings specifically,
but I don't recall.)  Some managementcritter
at some level (probably in NASA) ignored or overruled
those recommendations.  I can only conjecture that
this was because that the prevailing culture (in most
corporations, then and now) is "we have to meet
our schedules."

The managmentcritters' attitude can be
summarized by:
- "If *we* don't meet *our* schedules, it's my butt on the
line." (The regal "we" and "our" purposely emphasized.)
- "If we meet our schedules and **** up, it's someone
else's butt on the line."


P.S. - I make no claim that the design was good,
bad, or indifferent.  It is outside my area of expertise.
I *do* know, from personal experience, that many
technically sound recommendations are overruled by management,
for whatever reasons.  The root cause could well
have been in the choice of Morton-Thiokol, I don't
know.  If my recollections above are correct, tho,
the "proximate cause" was launching the shuttle at all
given the objections of the engineers.

"It is impossible to make anything foolproof
because fools are so ingenious"
  - A. Bloch

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