Challenger explosion serves as lesson for engineers

By Brandi Cummings - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Millions of people took time Friday to reflect on an American tragedy. It was 25 years ago that seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger died in an explosion.

Many of us can remember exactly what we were doing at that moment. "It's important to remember the Challenger for not only the people who are involved but as a lesson in American history," said USC history professor Dr. Allison Marsh.

For those alive 25 years ago, January 28th is a day never to be forgotten. Dr. Marsh is one of them. "I remember quite distinctly my principal running through the school, yelling, telling all the teachers to turn off the television and send us all home on the buses and left our parents to describe what we had just seen."

Millions had witnessed something no one could have imagined. Seven astronauts, including South Carolinian Dr. Ronald McNair, died in the Challenger explosion.

The disaster prompted a 32 month hiatus in the shuttle program as NASA back-tracked trying to find a cause for the explosion. Dr. Marsh said it became a case study for engineering ethics. "So that any student in engineering for the next generation was taught about what happened, step by step, moment by moment from the building of the space shuttle itself to that faithful moment when it exploded."

According to Dr. Marsh, the disaster also helped define the ethical responsibility for engineers. "It was a moment to tell engineers to speak up," she said, "That you can't just say here's the data. You make your own decision. The engineers themselves needed to have an active voice"

Now a quarter of a century later, those lessons are still being taught to engineering students around the world.

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