Our Wake Up Call
The Final Flight of the Shuttle Columbia
Book Review: Our Wake Up Call COMM CHECK: The Final Flight of the Shuttle Columbia
By Richard Keltner
Safety Specialist, Global Aerospace, Inc.
Even smart, well-intentioned people are capable of negligence. In their book, The Final Flight of the Shuttle Columbia, co-authors Michael Cabbage and William Harwood explain how NASA’s best and brightest repeatedly missed the warning signs that led to another shuttle’s fateful disaster.
Can you close your eyes and see the picture? Can you see the video? A white red sparkling trail of fire streaking through a cloudless blue sky on February 1st, 2003. That beautiful horror marked the Space Shuttle Columbia’s breakup in the middle of a blast furnace.
The Challenger disaster (explosion during launch in 1986) stunned me and served as a reminder of how dangerous it can be to ride a rocket. But the Columbia hit me in the gut. This was NASA; meticulous, scientific, professional and infallible. This was the space shuttle; people simply would not screw this up a second time. But they did. A chain of events, each one influenced negatively by Human Factors, led to the destruction of that machine and the deaths of those astronauts. NASA was broken and those most capable of fixing it refused to recognize or admit it.
I thank Don Chupp (Fireside Partners) for introducing me to this important book. It was published in 2004 and it is out of print. He said I would have no problem finding a copy through Amazon or eBay, and he was right. In fact, I found my copy in ten minutes and it only cost me $6.00. He said it was packed with lessons, and that was an understatement.
“…most accident investigations find the widget that broke, they find the person in the cause chain closest to the widget that broke, require that the widget be redesigned or replaced and the person fired or retrained, and then call it a day. And they do not go far enough to find out why did this happen. The failure of that is that you really haven’t fixed the problem. You really are setting yourself up for a repeat.”
–Harold Gehman, ADM, USN (ret) Chairman, Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB)
Buy this book. Read this book. If it doesn’t grab you by the hair, you should reevaluate your professional choice. Have fun and keep doing the good work.
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