'Complex Systems Almost Always Fail in Complex Ways'

The observation above was first made by the board that was formed to investigate the loss of the Columbia space shuttle that took place on February 1, 2003. (That board had also issued a 400-page report.) The loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 was not the first tragic event associated with that NASA program. In January 1986, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the space shuttle Challenger was lost when it exploded a little over a minute into its flight. The tragedy was amplified by the fact that an energetic and charismatic young schoolteacher named Christa McAuliffe was on board as the first non-government American scheduled to go into space. Schoolchildren around the USA and other parts of the world had tuned in to watch the space launch on television when fire leapt from one of the booster rocket seals and the entire Challenger spacecraft caught fire and exploded. Ultimately, investigations into the cause of the disaster determined that a very small but critical part of the rocket assembly called an O-ring was the problem when the temperature in Florida at the launch location had dropped below freezing. Because of the high profile nature of the launch involving Christa McAuliffe, various NASA officials, and managers at Morton Thiokol Corporation, there was reluctance to delay the flight to test whether or not the cold temperatures were likely to have an impact.

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