Daily Archives: December 14, 2011

The Value of Data

On a cold January morning in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifted off its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Morale was high, especially as the Challenger flight was to inaugurate the teacher-in-space program with astronaut/high school teacher Christa MacAuliffe in its crew. Alas, 73 seconds into the flight the shuttle disintegrated, destroying the spacecraft and killing all the astronauts on board. The cause of the accident was a leak of hot gas from one of the solid rocket boosters. The leak occured because of the failure of rubber “O-rings” which were supposed to seal the joints between rocket sections, and part of the reason they failed is that the temperature was so cold at the time of the launch — the O-ring material becomes more stiff at low temperature so it’s less likely to make a proper seal.

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