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Dr. Allan J. McDonald, Wednesday, 6-20-12 June 21, 2012

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Dr. Allan J. McDonald, Wednesday, 6-20-12


Guest:  Dr. Allan J. McDonald.  Topics:  “Truth, Lies and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.”  You are invited to comment, ask questions, & discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, & any discussion must be relevant & applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.  We welcomed Dr. Allan McDonald to the program to discuss the Challenger accident from the inside.  Visit his website for more important information, http://ethicskeynotespeaker.com.  If you order his book from Amazon with the following URL, Amazon will make a donation to The Space Show/OGLF:  www.amazon.com/Truth-Lies-O-Rings-Challenger-Disaster/dp/0813041937/ref=onegiantlea20. During our fist segment, Dr. McDonald provided the background on why he wrote the book & his information sources.  He mentioned some of the difficulties he faced getting it published & his decision to work with the famous historian & author, Dr. James Hanson.  During the remaining part of this segment, he went over the real story of what happened before, during, & after the Challenger accident.  He told us about the three part conference call the night before to determine if Challenger should be launched, the requirement by NASA management for the engineers to prove that what they were saying about the o-rings & cold temperatures would cause failure rather than asserting it was unsafe to do the launch given the prevailing temperatures & winds.  We learned about NASA management intimidation & compromises eventually made by Thiokol to support NASA management contrary to the engineering data that existed.  Dr. McDonald explained what was behind launch “go fever” & the most probable source for it.  Our guest talked at great length about the temperature parameters, the evidence they had from recovered SRBs leading to severe cold weather safety concerns, all of which NASA management ignored.  We also learned about extremely cold temperatures, 6-7 degrees at the launch site, & that it was not reported by NASA personnel the morning of the launch.  We fielded several listener emails & phone calls.  Some questioned NASA management about their engineering knowledge & competence.  We also talked about the lack of accountability for decision making within NASA at the time.

In the second segment, questions about liquid rocket engines as compared to solids were answered, supported by facts.  For those of you who disagree with Dr. McDonald on this issue, why not post questions for him on the blog?  Later I asked about making the SRBs without segments & if they were segmented only to please theUtah delegation back in the day.  Our guest had much to say on this, talked about the very large un-segmented SRBs that were made & ground tested near theCape, & he explained several of the trade decisions that must be evaluated were we to go to one large booster without segments.  Dr. McDonald explained his redesign & the fix implemented after the accident. He also talked about the oversight involved in the redesign process & why it was nearly impossible to come up with an approved & effective fix for the o-ring problem.  We talked some about the Challenger litigation, then our guest was asked for the new SRB cold weather operating parameters.  In his closing comments, he pointed out the lessons to be learned with one of the main points being that many people against the launch for solid engineering reasons never spoke out given they were intimidated by NASA management wanting to do the launch no matter what.  He said that it was an ethical obligation to speak out in these matters.  People must not remain silent & that was & is today an essential lesson to be learned from Challenger.

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog.



1. Terry in Corpus Christi - June 21, 2012

This was a a very good show. NASA really dropped the ball on Challenger. Way too much pressure to launch regardless of other opinions. Hoping for Allan to write that book of how solid rockets won the Cold War.

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