Columbia Shuttle Disaster

Posted: November 28th, 2013





Columbia Shuttle Disaster

The Columbia shuttle disaster is regarded as one of the worst space travel disasters to occur. It occurred on 1 February 2003 over the state of Texas when the Columbia shuttle disintegrated and exploded into bits while entering the earth’s atmosphere form space. The disaster was caused by both technical and organizational failures on the part of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The technical failures that played a huge role in the cause of the accident were recurrent, as previously witnessed in a similar accident in 1983 during the Challenger tragedy, whereby the shuttle challenger exploded right after 73 seconds of lift-off from the station. It is common knowledge to rectify a problem after its occurrence to prevent reoccurrence (Engineering Disasters and Learning from Failure 7).

The shuttle exploded in the atmosphere due to the damage of the O-ring. The O-ring is a seal used to prevent inflow and outflow of liquids or gases in industrial or mechanical appliances. High standards of engineering requirements state that nothing should affect the shuttle during launch. However, this had happened before with the Challenger shuttle, whereby the o-ring had leaked hot gas, which pierced the fuel tank and caused the challenger to explode in mid air after lift-off. With regard to the Columbia shuttle, the O-ring had leaked foam, which had separated from the main fuel tank and affected the left wing of the Columbia shuttle (Engineering Disasters and Learning from Failure 4).

Questions arise as to the acts of the engineering technicians and the organization’s management. In addition, more questions arise as to why the same problems had occurred and why they were not rectified, yet they were identical to the cause of similar catastrophes such as the Challenger disaster. The change can only occur in the organisation from both above and below. whereby from below, the social Organizations can take the associated space agencies to take the adequate preparations before launching their expeditions without haste. Organization from above can also solve such problems, whereby the organizational management can provide adequate supervision and direction in the preparation of identical expeditions. In addition, the governments can also ensure safety of such projects by ensuring that adequate tests and preparations are performed to the stipulated regulations and by ensuring the use of quality materials. Utilitarianism aims to determine whether an action is right or wrong. It is defined as a consquentialist moral theory, which states morality as a net expectable utility for individuals affected by a decision. It is linked by an idea of what it means to be human and dwells on human observations (Jeremy, 9).

Utilitarianism concludes that human actions and decisions are made with the hope of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The action is deemed good if it tends to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the greatest number of people affected by the decision and its consequences (Jeremy, 4). The calculation of the total sum of pleasure and pain produced by an act and thus the consequences in total is done using Hedonic calculus. Bentham,author of Principles of Morals and Legislation, states that when we consider if an action  is right or wrong we should consider if pleasures and pain resulting from the action by determining their intensity, duration, certainty,propinquity,fecundity,purity and extent. Bentham developed this theory with the hope that it would be used in criminal law reform to determine an individual’s punishment level by working out the effects using the Hedonic Calculus approach (Pyle, 12). Bentham using the hedonistic calculus approach determined the effects of an action by evaluating all the elements associated with the approach.


The seven considerations were used by Bentham in his hedonistic approach and he formulated them by asking questions with regard to the problems in question. Intensity defined as the magnitude or strength of the action. With regard to the Columbus shuttle disaster, the intensity should be determined to enable the movement to the next element for full evaluation of the disaster. The shuttle disintegrated and exploded. There were no survivors. This brought a lot of grief to the families and the state as well. The families of the crew that was in the shuttle were detached with their loved ones who were parents, brothers, sisters and spouses. Some families were left with no providers, which brought a lot of grief to the remainder part of the family who do not have any other source of getting their needs provided for.

Children who had their parents in the shuttle were left with no provider and a source of care. The pain of losing a parent will forever live with the children wondering why their parents had to be the ones in the shuttle and why the accident had to happen and who was responsible for the negligence that led to the accident. The accident also drew a lot of criticism from the public. They were agitated by the negligence on the part of the management for ignoring calls to rectify issues that were still unclear, and they instead pushed for a fast launch of the shuttle. This shows the pain in the families and the public. Thus, it would be sufficient to conclude that the actions in the complete organizational structure were at fault from low-level technicians to the top management.


Duration of the pain resulting from the disaster still lives on in the families and the NASA fraternity. People who lost family members still have to live with the pain of losing a loved one who is not replaceable in any way possible. The pain of losing a shuttle and its effects in terms of cost still are felt in the space travel fraternity. The pain of losing the crew will live in the hearts and the accident will be envisioned in the family members for a very long time to come if not for the rest of their lives.


The certainty that the pain would occur was positive because those who lost their lives had an emotional attachment with others who were left behind. It is very painful to lose someone close whether family or friend and thus it is very evident that the loss of the crew led to a lot of pain to their friends and families. It is because they had lost people close to them with whom they had developed bonds and dependence on them whether financial or emotional.


Propinquity is defined as nearness or remoteness. The evaluation of pain with regard to its nearness was that the pain resulting from the accident was instant. The loss of lives drew a lot of grief from the public and especially the families of those who had their members in the shuttle. As soon as the news spread about the disaster families made frantic calls to the agency requiring clarification about the accident. This shows that the impact of the disaster was instant and immediate thus; the pain emanating from the accident was near thus that actions of the organization were at clear and evident fault.



Fecundity is the probability that the pain will lead to other pains or the pleasures will lead to other pleasures as explained by Bentham. The disaster was a source of agony for the families due to the loss of loved ones. This loss led to more agony with the remnants of the families seeking justice due to the negligence of the organization. The children left behind by the deceased would always be tasked with the hassle of supporting their needs such as emotional support that only exist between parents and children and other needs such as financial support. All this pains are because of the disaster. Thus, it would correct to state that the pain of losing the crew by their family members led to more pain resulting from hassles of life such as emotional needs, which would only be provided by family members.


Purity states how much pain is associated with the action (Jeremy, 23). The actions of the management led to endless anguish of the families and the engineers who all lost extremely important people in their lives. The country also lost very important people in society who were very dedicated working tirelessly as they anticipated the journey in the Columbia shuttle. The pain could not result in any pleasure, loss of lives of men and women who were hard workers.


The extent of the disaster was very severe due to the huge impact it had on a vast number of people. The disaster affected family members who lost their loved ones. Others lost providers for their families, others lost friends from whom they would get advice and companionship. The NASA agency also suffered a large blow because of the accident. The agency lost experienced and dedicated crew who were very talented in research. The accident was evidently because of human error on the part of the management of NASA. The top management declined the request to have telescope or satellite imaging for the damaged area of the shuttle. This would have enabled the ground technicians to prepare adequately for any problematic landing of the shuttle.

The request was denied by management because the requestors did not follow the right communication channels. It is very insensitive to endanger the lives of people based on mere organizational bureaucracies. This shows that there was a clear disconnect between the upper management and the engineers, because if both parts of the organization had a clear vision necessary and appropriate action would have been taken towards the mitigation of the disaster. The same organizational bureaucracies were also present during the 1983 Challenger tragedy whereby the management denied the request to have more tests that are conclusive on the O-rings of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and instead insisted that the launch proceed resulting in a devastating accident. Important data was presented to the management who considered it irrelevant and ignored it all the same. Because of such ignorance, dedicated crew lost their lives. The choices of the management were to bring pleasure by taking the crew to space for research. The expedition was also to bring information with regard to the presence of life in space, but this was not the case because the decision did not reflect what was right, as they did not heed the advice of those that were responsible for making and assembly of the shuttle.







Work cited

Srinivasan, Vasudevan and Halada, Gary. Engineering Disasters and Learning from Failure. A Few Links to Information on Engineering Disasters: Aerospace. State University of New York.2008. Web. Accessed on 13 February 2012.

Jeremy, Bentham. Utilitarianism. S.l.: Bibliobazaar Publishers, 2009. Print.

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