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Case Study: The Slide that Led to the Columbia Shuttle Disaster

One badly designed slide led to decisions that (very likely) caused the destruction of the Columbia Space Shuttle.

This case is based on the article Death by PowerPoint: the slide that killed seven people.

On 1 Feb, 2003, Columbia was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center. Instead, it disintegrated, killing all seven people aboard.

When Columbia's STS-107 mission launched, Mission Control noticed a piece of spray on foam insulation (SOFI) fell from one of the ramps that attached the shuttle to its external fuel tank and struck one of the tiles on the outer edge of the shuttle’s left wing.

Foam coming off the ramps during launch is a known phenomenon; it had happened before, without causing harm. Nonetheless, analysts carefully reviewed all available information about the incident to decide whether it was safe for Columbia to land at the end of its mission.

Boeing engineers presented to NASA management with 28 slides about their work. Here is the key slide of their presentation: Fig. 1: The key slide presented by Boeing engineers to NASA management.

Take a few moments to review this slide, and then consider: How could NASA management have guessed that “something bad” would likely happen if they let Columbia land? Or at very least, consider: Did this slide really help NASA management at all?

Make a list of everything you think is wrong with this slide. (Remember to put yourselves in the shoes of NASA management.)

For each problem, what might have been done to make the slide better?

design/the_slide_that_led_to_the_columbia_shuttle_disaster.txt · Last modified: 2020.07.25 15:10 by Fil Salustri