Lessons of Challenger disaster to be explored at symposium

The Challenger breaking apart just moments after its launch. Photo/NASA

It’s been 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart in the skies over Florida, its smoky aftermath horrifying onlookers and shocking a nation charmed by a school teacher who was the first member of the Teacher in Space Project.

Christa McAuliffe never got to complete her lessons from space, nor the crew of six astronauts its scientific mission. But the lessons from the tragic event are still coming home, say leading space flight historians who blame unethical management for the disaster and will appear together in a leadership symposium from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, at Chapman University.

Challenger Disaster 25th Anniversary Symposium: “Truth, Lies and O-Rings: Lessons from Challenger” will feature Allan J. McDonald, author of Truth, Lies and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster and former director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project at ATK Thiokol; and Richard C. Cook, author of Challenger Revealed, former lead resource analyst at NASA and the person who was the first to warn of a possible catastrophic failure. Mark Maier, Ph.D., director of Leadership Studies in the College of Educational Studies, will moderate the symposium to be held at Sandhu Conference Center.

By exploring how certain leadership styles can generate a cascade of failures – from the space shuttle catastrophe to the Enron and Madoff debacles – symposium participants will learn ways to champion dissent and reward ethical behavior. 

Also featured will be artifacts and memorabilia from the Roger and Roberta Boisjoly Challenger Disaster Collection, donated to Chapman University in 2009 by Roger Boisjoly, who was one of the first and most vocal experts to call for the cancellation of the Challenger flight before its ill-fated liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

The commemorative symposium is presented by the College of Educational Studies, George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics, Leatherby Libraries, Schmid College of Science, and Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society. Admission is free, but reservations are requested and may be arranged by e-mailing CES@chapman.edu with “Challenger Leadership Symposium” in the subject line.

Dawn Bonker