The Challenger Disaster: What Happens When Politics Overrides Science

(Cross-posted from Red Green and Blue)

The Challenger Disaster: What Happens When Politics Overrides ScienceWe’re seeing more and more science overruled by politics – in climate change, in clean energy, in high-speed rail.

But that’s a formula for disaster – like the Challenger disaster that took the lives of seven astronauts and irretrievably damaged the American space program. On the 25th anniversary of that tragedy, it’s worth recalling how it happened.

It was cold that morning – too cold for the o-rings on the fuel tanks to seal well. When one of the engineers went home the night before, he told his wife “I think they are going to kill those astronauts tomorrow.”

But the engineers didn’t have the final say. There was pressure to get the Challenger launched that day from upper management. And so it went up. And exploded in flight.

The next time you hear someone saying the science on climate change “hasn’t been proved definitively”, recall the words of the engineer who was pressured into giving the go-ahead:

The VP of engineering was pressured to change his mind and “Take off his engineering hat, and put on his management hat.” He then told NASA that “The data predicting blow by (of super-hot gases) was inconclusive.” NASA heard silence on the phone after that, which was interpreted by them to be a go ahead to launch.

Think about this the next time you hear the politicians trying to overrule scientists.

(Read the whole article at our sister blog, Red Green and Blue)

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