The disaster of the Space shuttle Columbia occurred on February 1, 2003. It was launched by NASA for its 28th mission. It was just 16 minutes from landing when it got disintegrated. This happened over Texas and Louisiana when the shuttle was entering the earth’s atmosphere. This led to the death of all the seven crew members. The accident was caused by the damage that occurred at the launch when a small piece of foam insulation broke off. The thermal protection system of the shuttle, which shields it from the intense heat generated from atmospheric compression when reentering the earth, was damaged. This is how the accident occurred.
Influence of the Political Environment on the Decision to Launch the Shuttle
The political environment at the time influenced NASA to launch the shuttle. There were people who were responsible for this political pressure, as well as the launch of the shuttle. Most of the internal decisions made by NASA were influenced by external political pressures. The officials needed the funding that they were getting from the Congress. They also wanted to prove their image that they had the ability to do unimaginable. Therefore, they ignored the warnings given by the engineers regarding the foam problems that were long standing. The most astonishing part is that NASA had knowledge of the foam failure. However, they just suppressed the constant warnings of the professional engineers (Godwin, 2003). NASA is vulnerable to the wishes and dictates of the Congress. On the other hand, the Congress takes pride in patriotism and showing the superiority of the nation. They derive this from factors such as space exploration. Therefore, NASA did not want to reschedule the launch because of the foam failure warnings sent by the engineers.
Sources of Political Pressure and their Points of View
Russia was a serious competitor in space exploration. They had hardware and technology to help in the modeling of space shuttles. NASA struggled to maintain the space station. This is because Bill Clinton wanted to promote the US-Russian cooperation. This was in a bid to benefit from the hardware produced by Russia. This was a significant source of pressure on NASA. They received their funding from the government. Therefore, they needed to do as the Congress wished. Being the best explorer of space seemed like a competition. It seemed that the country that led in that area could be seen as a superpower. Therefore, the American government pressed on NASA with this date, which caused more harm than good (Florida, 2010).
The other source of political pressure was internal. William Langwiesche claimed that the launching of the space shuttle was a test for NASA by the Whitehouse. Of all the places that the pressure could have come from, this was a most unexpected direction. Issues of over budgeting and being behind schedule were evolving all the time. Therefore, NASA felt that they needed to prove to the Whitehouse that they could meet budgets and schedules that were set. Subsequent space station growth was necessary for NASA. Therefore, they could not afford to fail to reach deadlines and risk losing support from the Whitehouse and the Congress (Cole, 2003). Therefore, the importance of this date was always communicated to the people involved. The administrator of NASA was constantly reminded about the space shuttle and the space program managers were continuously told about the importance of the February 16th date. Most of the workers saw this as something that could not be achieved. This desire to hit the deadline caused NASA to ignore the flaws that were on the space shuttle. This cost the lives of all the crew members and caused immense losses.
The Responsible Person for the Launch and Determination of Responsible Use of Administrative Power
The crew, professional engineers, and other workers at NASA were not responsible for the launch of the shuttle. They were just following orders. Therefore, the blame can only be shifted to the people who were in power at that time. This is because they were responsible for the giving of orders as well as determining the date of launch.
The issue of a single person who was responsible for the launch is controversial. Some people would argue that the President was the main initiator. However, there is no mistake in trying to be competitive and move with changing times. Besides, the President could not know of any flaw existing on the shuttle. Therefore, if NASA claimed that they could hit the deadline, the government could have no objection. The person responsible for the launch was the one who was in charge, Linda Ham. She had been informed of the foam flaws. These were flaws which had been experienced before. However, she still gave the go-ahead on the launch (Starbuck & Farjoun, 2005). She did not do this due to the validity of measures to be taken to deal with the problem. She did it to be in line with the planned schedule.
Ham was the only person who could have delayed the launch. Therefore, the responsibility of a person in the use of administrative powers cannot be determined from their speeches and composure. It is derived from the consequences of the actions that they authorize. Ham seemed composed before the launch. She mentioned the problem of the foam as an easy one and gave the impression that she was in control. However, this was proved wrong when it led to the accident (Bates, 2011). The best way in which anyone can ensure the responsible use of administrative power is the airing of views. Whenever irresponsibility is suspected, people should ask questions and demand for answers. In cases when they have the power, individuals should make sure that they put the right people in power to ensure its responsible use.
Reasons why Political Dimensions are Ignored
During such accidents, the political dimensions are always ignored. This is due to a number of reasons. First, most people have shallow thinking and do not think outside the box. When people conduct their research, they mainly get it from reports instead of being thorough in their work. This causes them to miss the most significant facts such as political dimensions. Therefore, their reports are incomplete and inaccurate.
Secondly, most people fear to place the blame on high level people. They like blaming low level and harmless people in their findings. For example, people only wanted to focus on the foam problem instead of dealing with the real cause of the ignorance (Vaughan, 1997). Therefore, the political influence on the accident is forgotten, or rather ignored. When the accident happened, George Bush was the first to show his sadness. He said that the cause to which the victims were committed would continue. This is what most leaders do after catastrophes have occurred. Therefore, it would be difficult for a normal researcher to link them with some of the calamities.
How the Unified Ethics Might Speak to this Situation
The unified ethics might bring out views and issues to this situation. Its views would be on the people in power. The decisions that the people in power make should exhibit moral value. There is no way that a leader who upholds ethics would have allowed the launch to take place. They should not have taken chances with the lives of people. When making decisions, leaders should focus on the consequences of mistakes rather than on the success alone. The people in power at that time should have focused on the safety of the crew (Sagan, 1995). However, they only focused on being on schedule so that they would not lose government support. This led to the loss of all the seven crew members, which was disastrous. This showed the lack of ethics by leaders, as well as their incompetence in managing pressure.
From the essay above, it is clear that political pressure can have an enormous effect on the world class accidents that happen. Technical details and problems will always exist. Perfection is achievable, though not always. However, there are some things that can be entirely avoided. The political pressures can be withdrawn and prevented. The Columbia accident is an ideal example of an accident caused by political pressure. This should be prevented at all costs in order to save lives as well as prevent losses.