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In Memoriam: RMS Titanic

Challenger: A Modern Day Titanic

There is a cycle of events that occurs in the life of every great tragedy. The sinking of the Titanic and the destruction of the Shuttle Challenger during Mission 51-L in January, 1986 were just two of many incidents where man took too much for granted.

Everyone knows what caused the sinking of the Titanic: she struck an iceberg. Everyone knows what caused the Challenger to explode: An O-ring in a solid rocket booster froze. These are the immediate causes, however. The root causes, the real reasons behind the loss of these two fine ships go much deeper.

Technological Achievement R.M.S. Titanic was the largest, most complex ship afloat. Challenger was the largest, most complex spaceship ever launched.
Scheduling Titanic was trying to reach New York by Tuesday night Challenger needed to be in orbit so Christa McAuliffe could participate in the State of the Union speech
Complacency Technology had rendered ships larger, faster, more luxurious, and safer. "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot concieve of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.": Captain Edward J. Smith After 24 successful launches, this risky operation projected the same sense of normalcy a commuter train does.
Ice Warnings Multiple ice warnings were ignored or misunderstood Ice had formed over the entire launch complex. Warnings about the possible effect of the cold were ignored
Predictions In the 1898, novel, "Futility", Morgan Robertson told of the loss of a ship named the Titan. The Titan had identical specifcations as the Titanic, down to the fact there were inadequate lifeboats. Like the Titanic, she sailed on her maiden voyage in April, struck an iceberg, and sank with a large loss of life. In December, 1985, one month prior to the Challenger disaster, Dr. Robert Ballard said, "I think there is a parallel with NASA and the people who built the Titanic. ... When we conquer a new field of technology, we become overconfident."
Impact on Society The loss of the Titanic was felt at all levels of society. So great was the impact that some historians link the loss of this ship to Great Britain's indecisiveness at the outset of World War I. Addtionally, more stringent regulations governing safety of life at sea were adopted, with a ripple effect felt all the way to today. The loss of the Challenger dealt NASA a blow that haunted the agency for nearly three years. In that time, a string of launch failures, both commercial and military, dogged all efforts to reestablish the manned space program. As a result, there are more stringent restrictions on flight and cargo and personnel that can be carried.
Last Words "Iceberg right ahead, sir!" "Obviously, a major malfunction. We have no downlink."

Copyright © 1995-1998 Michael Disabato.