The 48-Year Lesson

By Isaac Mensah | Training Manager

I’d like to take a few minutes and point out a particularly important happening in US history: today is the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 1 Launchpad fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The combination of a capsule hatch that couldn’t be opened from the inside, an all-oxygen capsule atmosphere, and one single spark almost sidelined the US space program indefinitely. A lot can be said about safety reviews, being open to ideas (the astronaut office campaigned NASA HQ to design a door that could be opened from the inside. The idea was shot down due to weight and system complexity concerns), and the like. It is also easy to see a very heavy correlation between the space program and the oil business. Both take place in very unforgiving environments where the smallest mistakes can have large, and sometimes tragic, consequences.

Around NASA’s various centers and facilities, January 27th is also used to remember the crews of Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. While the Apollo 1 fire could be chalked up to a lack of foresight (pure O2 capsule atmospheres had been used without a problem since the Mercury program), Challenger and Columbia, in my mind, could have been completely avoided. Office politics, money concerns placed over sound engineering practices, and a willingness to accept what should’ve been unacceptable risks lead to the deaths of 14 astronauts. I type this to remind us all that while we are beholden to our customers to provide an outstanding product that meets and exceeds their needs and wishes, we should do so only in accordance with what we know to be sound practices based on proven engineering techniques.

I say all of this because I think it’s good to think and reflect every so often, and to remind ourselves that what we do influences not only policy, but practices that can have a major impact in our industry.

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