The reading under analysis is called Columbia’s Last Flight and is introduced by Langewiesche. In particular, the story reveals the journalist’ investigation and research on the reasons for the space shuttle disaster happened in February1, 2003.
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The author focuses on preliminary construction terms, NASA’s response to the tragedy, further investigations, and alternative methods for averting the tragedy. In addition, the author pays attention to negligent attitude of engineers and operators to risks detected at the preliminary stages of the shuttle launch.
At the very beginning of the article, the journalist outlines the underpinnings for the flight, including the construction terms, as well as the importance and the purpose of the mission. In particular, Langewiesche emphasizes that the space shuttle journey was not of the primary importance, although the construction deadline was under the great pressure.
Further considerations were dedicated to the accident, as well as to the events connected with it. In particular, the author focuses on the lack of awareness and failure of communication between the flight control board and the shuttle which became decisive factor influencing the tragedy.
In the reading, the journalist insists that the shuttle was damaged by the foam block that broke off the fuel tank and struck the shuttle’s left wing. Despite the fact that the damage was noticed, “…the shuttle program managers…had dismissed the incident as essentially unthreatening” (Langewiesche 61). However, ignorance and improper assessment of the situation contributed to further irreversible complications.
Further in the reading, the author refers to the analysis of investigation procedures and NASA’s responses to the tragedy. In fact, NASA’s representatives rejected the idea of foam block damaging the left wing because the latter was made of temperature-proof material that was strong enough to resist even the most powerful hit. As a result, the NASA’s reputation was at stake because further explorations and discoveries justified negligence of the engineers and constructors.
Apart from improper management of the construction process and lack of communication and reporting between the shuttle and the Space Center, there was a significant lapse in risk management. Specifically, Langewiesche discusses the alterative ways that the engineers could have employed during the rescue operation. On the one hand, launching the second shuttle to safe the crew was a risky business because there was a possibility of losing two shuttles.
On the other hand, a carefully arranged contingency plan can save the lives of seventh people. The latter variant, however, also presupposes significant costs, which did not motivated NASA’s leaders. The journalist notes, “for all their willingness to explore less likely alternatives, many of NASA”s managers were stubbornly closed-minded on the subject of foam” (Langewiesche 73). Once again, the author emphasizes inconsistent approach of the government to the incident.
At the end of the story, Langewiesche confesses that the details of the tragedy are quite sophisticated due to the involvement of technical, moral, and ethical issues. The human factor is also emphasized because all the parties involved in the issue failed to reach a consensus concerning the actual reason for the damage.
Nevertheless, all aspects in total had become lethal for the seven pilots on the board of the cosmic shuttle. The story also provides many lessons to be learnt that relate specifically to the communication and crisis management. Specific attention should also be given to NASA’s reputation and their response to the disaster.
Langewiesche, William. “Colambia’s Last Flight: The Inside Story of Investigation and the Catastrophe it Laid Bare”. The Atlantic Monthly, (2003): 58-87. Print.