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E – 1934 Engineering Ethics: “Hold Safety Paramount” to Prevent Loss of Life, and the Case of Columbia Shuttle Disaster


This course first presents a summary of the Code of Ethics for Engineers focusing on safety-related provisions, followed by a discussion of how ethical issues are present in every stage of design and construction and how such ethical issues, especially related to safety, need to be addressed to prevent catastrophe.  The tragic disintegration of Shuttle Columbia during the re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere and the cause of the disintegration will be discussed next.  The Columbia disaster will be used to show how not “holding safety paramount” by the engineers and their managers during the design phase as well as during the operational phase of the Columbia resulted in the tragic failure and loss of lives of seven astronauts. It will be shown that if the first canon of the Code of Ethics for Engineers to “hold safety paramount” was followed, this man-made catastrophe could have been prevented.

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