The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman

By Richard P. Feynman; Jeffrey Robbins | Go to book overview

the Commission, but Feynman fought to have it included; it was relegated to an appendix. When the Commission held a live press conference to answer questions, Feynman did his now-famous tabletop experiment with one of the shuttle's gaskets, or O-rings, and a cup of ice water. It dramatically proved that those key gaskets had failed because the warning of the engineers that it was too cold outside to go ahead with the launch went unheeded by managers eager to impress their bosses with the punctuality of their mission schedule. Here is that historic report.


Introduction

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could more properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"

We have also found that certification criteria used in Flight Readiness Reviews often develop a gradually decreasing strictness. The argument that the same risk was flown before without failure is often accepted as an argument for the safety of accepting it again. Because of this, obvious weaknesses are accepted again and again, sometimes without a sufficiently serious attempt to remedy them, or to delay a flight because of their continued presence.

-152-

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