Challenger: A Defining Moment

On January 28th 1986, one of the most significant events in the history of space travel made its debut. Challenger, a space shuttle veteran of ten missions, was ripped apart in orbit near the coast of Florida. On that day seven Americans lost their lives. With the tears and sorrow that followed, Americans around the globe experienced a wave of emotion that reminded us of the fragility of human life and the dangers of human ambition. As these heroes were laid to rest, most Americans didn’t notice our faith in science crawl into their coffins with them.

Now what does this have to do with IDEAS? If you’re an IDEAS student you already know. If you’re not, that is okay, that’s why I’m writing this. In every seminar this year (and the word “every” is not an exaggeration) the topic of Challenger always graces our ears. Why? Why is this event still actively being discussed nearly three decades after it occurred? The answer is simple; we still have technology. The day that Challenger shocked us to our core, our resolve was questioned where technology is concerned. The day Challenger fell from the sky is the day that we began to question our faith… in technology.

The Challenger Disaster was not supposed to happen. It simply didn’t seem to cross into the realm of possibility.  We were shaken as a people and for better or for worse, we are still racked by these tremors. As engineers we have to realize that we are not just developing technology to solve a problem, we are nurturing the tenuous trust that exists between the American people and technology. There is no single answer as to what exactly an IDEAS seminar is, but it is safe to say that there is a critical focus on our responsibility as engineers.

Click on this picture to watch the video aired by CNN the day of the incident (courtesy of YouTube)
Click on this picture to watch the video aired by CNN the day of the incident (courtesy of YouTube and CNN)
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