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Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia Case Study


American space exploration programs have been associated with several disasters that changed the way people see crisis and project management. They also were the cause of substantial changes in the US aviation and space-related policies.

The accidents with Challenger and Columbia are two disasters that shaped such policies. It is possible to compare the two cases to understand fundamental errors that led to the loss of people’s lives and multimillion-dollar spacecraft.

The two disasters are very different. Thus, the Challenger exploded several minutes after the launch of the spaceship (“Challenger Disaster Live on CNN” n. pag.). Columbia exploded on its return to the earth (Associated Press n. pag.). The failure in the joint of the elements of the rocket motor caused the Challenger catastrophe (“Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident” n. pag.).

Columbia disintegrated as a result of the break off of the insulation foam that had hit the wing during the launch (“Columbia: Accident Investigation Board” 49). It is necessary to note that disasters could have been prevented. For instance, Columbia’s return could have been successful if the problem had been detected.

The malfunction occurred during the launch, and there was time to fix it. Clearly, there had to be a proper detection system that could identify such issues. When it comes to Challenger, several problems were detected before the launch (Forrest n. pag.).

However, the group of engineers and managers made the decision (that the spaceship was ready) that led to the catastrophe. Apparently, the disaster could have been prevented if they took the decision to implement the necessary diagnostic measures instead of focusing on the date of launch.

Therefore, it is possible to note that the two catastrophes were caused by physical malfunctions and poor management. The analysis of the accidents led to the development of a number of recommendations. As far as Columbia is concerned, it was recommended to develop “an aggressive program” aimed at the elimination of possible malfunctions in the tank with a focus on thermal protection (“Columbia: Accident Investigation Board” 225).

Another recommendation was to develop improved impact-resistant materials and a sophisticated inspection program (including software, people’s training, and so on) that would enable the crew to identify malfunctions when they occur.

It was also recommended to launch a comprehensive training program with a focus on various situations that may occur and the cooperation between different teams (“Columbia: Accident Investigation Board” 226). These recommendations have been implemented.

As for Challenger, recommendations were mainly aimed at the improvement of management systems. For instance, one of the recommendations was to improve project management systems. It was also recommended to develop a new structure of the rocket motor with an emphasis on joints (“Report to the President” 11).

The essential idea was to include astronauts in the project management team, which strengthened the team through the use of astronauts’ extensive experience (“Report to the President” 14). Finally, it was also recommended to improve safety measures. All the recommendations were implemented, and the system of management was significantly improved.

It is noteworthy that the two disasters provide valuable lessons to be learned. Obviously, the development of technology enables scientists and constructors to create more operational systems due to the creation of more suitable materials.

Apart from that, the Challenger accident made the stakeholders understand that there should be complete confidence that all the systems are operating correctly, and the spaceship, as well as the crew, is ready for the successful launch and return.

There also should be standardized procedures that ensure that all safety measures have been undertaken. At that, the Columbia disaster made the stakeholders understand the need for an operational inspection system that should detect any malfunctions in all the systems of the ship during the flight. At that, both programs showed that astronauts, as well as various teams, could benefit from training aimed at the development of efficient cooperation and addressing different situations.

Importantly, the implementation of the recommendations resulted in the development of (and changes in) a number of policies. Thus, the Challenger accident led to the establishment of policies aimed at improved standardization, efficient communication management, and sophisticated flight readiness review (“Report to the President” 3). The disintegration of Columbia revealed the flaws in these policies that also underwent various changes aimed at improved safety and communication.

It is necessary to note that the two disasters had a particular impact on the Shuttle Program. They revealed some flaws in the systems and management. They also enabled NASA to develop more efficient programs and policies that ensured successful launches and landings of many other shuttles.

Clearly, the loss of people’s lives and costly crafts was a very expensive lesson to be learned. However, NASA, as well as other organizations that are now working in the sphere of space exploration and aviation, have made a lot of progress. It is clear that shuttles should be employed as this is an effective and sustainable way to explore space.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “NASA Reports New Details of Columbia Deaths.” NBC News 2008. n. pag. Web.

. 2003. Web.

. 2007. n. pag. Web.

Forrest, Jeff. . 2005. n. pag. Web.

. 1986. n. pag. Web.

. 1986. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 3). Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/space-exploration-accidents-challenger-and-columbia/

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"Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia." IvyPanda, 3 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/space-exploration-accidents-challenger-and-columbia/.

1. IvyPanda. "Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia." May 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/space-exploration-accidents-challenger-and-columbia/.


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IvyPanda. "Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia." May 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/space-exploration-accidents-challenger-and-columbia/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia." May 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/space-exploration-accidents-challenger-and-columbia/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Space Exploration Accidents: Challenger and Columbia'. 3 May.

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