How the Challenger Shuttle Disaster Brought my Classes Together

mica-2012 Viterbi Life Leave a Comment

Have you ever had that feeling when you’re stumped on finding a solution to a problem, and suddenly everything makes sense when you put just the right combination of pieces together? That’s exactly how I felt this week. I had a good “Aha!” moment.

In the past few days, the class material from three of my classes has started to overlap and  — here’s the best part — complement each other! It all began when my Writing professor described the failure of the Challenger space shuttle during our ethics class. We discussed how the inefficient use of Powerpoint slides and communication led to the disaster.

The Challenger Space Shuttle launched on January 1986

The space shuttle was destroyed 73 seconds after take-off due to a faulty O-ring

After my writing class, I sauntered over to my “Work, Technology & Organization” class, where my Engineering professor decided to use the Challenger case to illustrate how the strained relationship between NASA’s upper management and the engineers was a major factor in the Challenger’s mishap that could have been mitigated. Hmm, what are the odds that I would discuss the same space shuttle disaster in two different classes?

The next day at my Systems Analysis class, my professor introduces the costs and benefits of all NASA’s decisions throughout the creation, launch and sadly, the disintegration of the Challenger. That’s when I realized how many approaches you can take to have solved the tragic Challenger incident, through the different outlooks my professors offered in my Viterbi classes.

It took some great thought to analyze the same case from different angles throughout several of my classes. Essentially, that’s the way we should solve problems — by investigating the issue from multiple perspectives. So, did my professors gather for a secret meeting where they decided they would each talk about the Challenger in their classes? Possibly… But I do know for sure that it was a fascinating coincidence this week and a meaningful learning experience to have all my classes fit perfectly together.

Here’s a great link that examines the Challenger disaster from an Industrial & Systems Engineering perspective:

The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: A failure in decision support systems and human factors management

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