On the morning of 28 January 1986 the space shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds after a perfect lift-off from Cape Canaveral, killing all seven crew. It had been a cold morning, and the actual cause of the disaster was a split rubber seal on a booster rocket, known to often malfunction in cold weather.

But perhaps to understand the disaster we should also take into account the sense of urgency placed on the space program due to the Star Wars initiative of the time. This frenzy to create a ballistic missile defence system in space was combined with a culture of over-work, low morale and severe cost cutting throughout NASA. A rubber seal may finally have been responsible, but we can see other factors creeping in to make disaster inevitable.

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