Piute County School District,

In July 1985 NASA was scheduled to send another crew of astronauts into space. The crew included a captain, a pilot, three mission specialists, two payload specialists, and a classroom teacher. Due to project setbacks the flight was postponed until November. As November approached there were still more setbacks and it was postponed to January 20th, 1986. Finally it was rescheduled again for January 28th, 1986.

Many of you may have been watching in a classroom or at home and you might have seen what happened on January 28th, 1986; but it’s very important to understand what happened on January 27th as well. The day before the launch the final approvals for the launch were being obtained with signatures. 

NASA uses many private companies to help them engineer, test, build, and operate their equipment. One of those companies was Morton Thiokol and they were responsible for approving the two massive rockets that held the fuel to power the shuttle into space. The director of the engineers working on those two massive rockets was Allan McDonald.

Allan had some very serious concerns with the launching of the shuttle. He didn’t believe the weather and temperatures were suitable for the launch. Record cold temperatures were forecasted for the day of the launch. While the full explanation of the problem with low temperatures might be really complex, the concept is quite basic. Rubber and plastic parts are more rigid and less flexible in cold weather. There are many plastic and rubber seals or gaskets on a rocket that ensure flammable gasses don’t escape tanks and pipes where they are not supposed to.

The day of January 27th, Allan was pressured by his superiors to not delay the launch for a fourth time. He made the bold decision to refuse to sign off on the launch, knowing that it may cost him his standing in the company and maybe his job. He was overruled by higher executives in his company. He called the decision to refuse to approve the launch the smartest decision he ever made. As you all may know, the next day the O-Rings of the Challenger failed due to the low temperatures and seven American astronauts were killed in a fiery crash on national television.

Allan’s courage was needed again just twelve days later. President Regean wanted answers about what happened. Allan, other engineers, contractors, and dozens of government officials gathered in a large room to hear NASA officials explain what happened to a presidential commission. When they got to the part about the temperature concerns they glossed over it by saying Morton Thiokol had some concerns but approved the launch. Allan felt compelled to stand in front of the large group and tell the truth that the engineers had tried to stop the launch, but were overruled by higher executives.

For speaking out, Allan was treated as a traitor to the company and executives demoted him in the ranks. Only threats from congress made Morton Thiokol reinstate him to his position. After that experience Allan became a strong advocate and speaker for ethical leadership. He went on to help design rockets that would be used in successful launches for NASA. 

There is so much that goes into someone's education that is not measured by a standardized test. Thank you for teaching the important life lessons of honesty and integrity. 

Have a great week 38,

Koby

Week 38 Allan McDonald