Monday, July 29, 2013

Make The Right Call

January 28, 1986 was like any other day in the life of a college freshman. I had attended class that morning and had returned to my dorm room when I heard that the Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up just after it lifted off in Cape Canaveral. It was one of those moments that is forever etched in my memory - where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, etc. all quickly come to mind when I remember that fateful morning.

In the days and months that followed the Challenger explosion, it became increasingly clear that the engineers from Thiokol who had designed the solid rocket boosters had strongly recommended that NASA delay the launch because they feared the unusually cold temperature could cause the synthetic rubber O-rings to fail. If the engineers who designed the rockets were fearful of failure because of the weather conditions, why did NASA launch the Challenger anyway? While there were a great many factors, it appears that external pressure, (both within Thiokol and NASA itself) was the primary driver of the decision to launch that morning.

Ask yourself, what have we learned from the Challenger disaster that we can apply to education today? Do we rush into ill-fated decisions because of external pressure? Does the need to cut cost and generate profit supersede the need to make good, educated decisions? Are experts driving the decisions or are others doing so?

As you may recall, one of the astronauts on that particular Challenger mission was Christa McAuliffe who was to become the first teacher in space. Now, almost 30 years after she lost her life on that mission, perhaps Christa McAuliffe still has some lessons to teach.

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