On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing the seven astronauts aboard and sending the U.S. space program into limbo. All space flight involves risk, but it’s the job of the people on the ground to assess tbat risk and minimize it. The question today is whether NASA and Morton Thiokol, the firm responsible for the design of the rocket booster that failed in the flight, have adequately re-examined their approach to the issue of risk assessment.

I am sorry to say that the answer is “no. There has been inadequate rethinking of risk in the aftermath of Challenger.

I view risk as the degree to which a product is exposed to failure that may or may not result in injury or loss of life. To communicate effectively the significance of a particular risk, the technical community must first present data and a...

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