Engineering Ethics Isn't Always Black And White

After 16 days in space, the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia was due to return to Earth. Residents of Texas watched as the shuttle glowed brightly in the clear blue Texas sky. Slowly, a realization that something was wrong dawned on them. Rather than one, bright, burning spot, as to be expected, there were several, each streaking across the sky, leaving straight white contrails behind them. NASA confirmed that the shuttle was indeed behind schedule for a landing in Florida. They had lost communication with the shuttle. The failure of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 is etched in many of our memories. It broke up, leaving a trail of debris across Texas, and killing the seven astronauts on board. After an investigation, it was determined that a piece of foam insulation fell from one of the external tanks and collided with a wing during launch. On reentry, this hole caused atmospheric gasses to leak back into the shuttle. This bit of foam, in a way, sealed the astronauts' fate, along with the space program, which ended 8 years later. Now, the Columbia disaster is one of the most well known examples of engineering ethics.

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