The Whistleblowers: Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry

By Myron Peretz Glazer; Penina Migdal Glazer | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Beginnings of
Ethical Resistance

ON 28 JANUARY 1986, millions of American citizens watched in horror as an ostensibly sophisticated and safe space shuttle exploded, killing six astronauts and the first teacher ever to fly in space. Up to the moment of the Challenger disaster, most Americans believed that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration incorporated the country's finest qualities: presumably, the best scientists, engineers, and managers had developed the world's most advanced technology to explore the new frontiers of space. Suddenly the safety systems collapsed and the infallible technical expertise failed, leaving in their wake mourning families, stunned political leaders, and citizens searching for an explanation. President Reagan immediately appointed a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the events leading up to the disaster. 1

In the hearings that followed, witnesses gradually revealed that major technological problems had been known for years to highly placed administrators. NASA engineers had recognized defects in the crucial booster rockets as far back as 1979. On the very night before the disaster, several engineers from the Morton Thiokol Company, the major contractor responsible for construction of the rockets, had clearly warned that the seals in the booster rocket could malfunction in the cold weather forecast for the day of the flight. Their recommendations to postpone the launch were, however, overruled by Thiokol's own executives and by NASA

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