Columbia and Challenger Disasters

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Introduction NASA launched the first space shuttle, Columbia, on April 12, 1981; exactly twenty years after the first manned space mission (Van Dijk, 2010). The launch of these reusable re-entry space vehicles signaled a new phase in space exploration. The expectations placed on the program included the delivery of satellites into orbit and scientific experimentation with an ever-increasing frequency. As the number of missions per year increased, so did reliance on subjective knowledge and experience rather than on solid data. On January 28, 1986, on the twenty-fifth mission of the shuttle program, the shuttle Challenger exploded into flames shortly after lift-off. A presidential commission eventually identified the cause of the explosion as a failure of the joints on a booster rocket to seal. “The 'culprits' were the synthetic rubber O-rings that were designed to keep the rockets' super hot gases from escaping from the joints between the booster's four main segments. Resulting flames then burned through the shuttle's external fuel tank. Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen then mixed and ignited, causing the explosion that destroyed the Challenger" (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009, p. 375). All the astronauts aboard the Challenger perished. Seventeen years later, on February 1, 2003, the Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. During lift-off, insulating foam fell from the fuel tank onto the wing, which caused a breach in the fragile tiles that were to protect the shuttle from the heat of reentry. Days later, when the shuttle attempted reentry, the breach allowed heat into the wing, which caused destruction of the craft. All the astronauts aboard the Columbia were killed. What were the lessons that NASA failed to learn between the two shuttle disasters? What changes that NASA implemented after the Challenger

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