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Intended Audience: all types of engineers


What led to the failure of the Space Shuttle Challenger? Gain a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between engineering ethics and technical knowledge through the lens of the case study, the Challenger disaster, in this PDH-accredited course exploring what caused the physical failure of the Challenger.

In this course, the Challenger decision-making process is chronicled through NASA photographs. Direct quotations from engineers interviewed after the disaster are also used to illustrate the ambiguities of the data and the pressures that the decision-makers faced in the months and hours preceding the launch.  The course culminates in a discussion of the 6 ethical issues raised by Challenger.

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this course, you’ll be able to identify and discuss:
  • Common errors to avoid in studying the history of an engineering failure
  • Retrospective fallacy and the myth of perfect engineering practice
  • Shuttle hardware involved in the disaster
  • Decisions made in the period preceding the launch
  • Ethical issues related to: NASA and contractors giving first priority to public safety over other concerns; whistle blowing; informed consent; ownership of company records; and when and why the public can perceive an engineering decision as involving an ethical violation (and what to do about it).

Course Reviews


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  1. Intersting Perspective on this Famous Tragedy


    Great course. I especially liked the reminders that engineering does not happen in a vacuum and that things that are clear after the fact may not seem out of the ordinary during the course of day to day work.


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