The Challenger crew consists of seven extensively trained and talented individuals. These astronauts are Commander Francis Scobee, the pilot, Michael Smith, specialists Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, and Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, and teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe. The last two are not NASA employees, but Mr. Jarvis’ company made him available for handling the mission cargo and Mrs. McAuliffe is a civilian that will be teaching classes from space as part of a new program (NASA, 2004). The absolute worst-case scenario of any failed launch is the death of the crew. Everyone is aware, which is why they take so many precautions, and launch delays are common.
On January 27, 1967, design flaws and bad luck caused the death of three Apollo 1 astronauts: Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee (Williams, 2018). Following this incident, NASA’s overall budget fell, and they drastically dropped the percentage of funds for the Apollo project.
Post-flight inspections of the SRBs of the STS-51B and the STS-51C missions both found O-ring corrosion. One burned completely through, and the other had severe damage. They found the cause of this damage to be the cold temperature during launch delaying the seal from forming (Gebhardt, 2011). This information sets a precedent to delay the launch until the engineers test the O-rings, and the launch-site temperature changes.
Morton-Thiokol engineers collected O-ring data from past launches and previous research information to show to management and NASA technicians. This gathering of facts and figures is to reinforce their recommendation to scrub the launch (Rogers et al., 1986).
The engineers have declared the safest launch temperature to be ?53? (Rogers et al., 1986). On launch day, the temperature at the time of launch will be in the 30s, which will be much lower and therefore hazardous. In addition, at no time during launch day is the temperature expected to reach 50?.
According to a press release, the next launch date after this is early March (“’86 Shuttle Plans Include Teacher, California Launch”, 1985). Therefore, delaying the launch will not conflict with any other missions.
The impact of a worst-case scenario failure is multi-faceted. The public could lose faith in NASA’s ability to successfully carry out missions. Any undesirable outcome could overshadow the progressive achievements. In addition, with civilians on board, it will multiply any effect, positive or negative.
The second Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and the Spartan (Shuttle Pointed Autonomous Research Tool for Astronomy) or HCED (Halley’s Comet Experiment Deployable) are in the Challenger’s cargo hold (“Quick Facts: Spartan Halley”, n.d.; “Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS)”, 2017). They both have vital purposes. If the launch fails, they may never be able to fulfill their objectives. As the saying goes, “Better late than never.”