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on 22 March 2013
I bought the kindle edition after seeing the BBC film "Challenger"- wanting to know more about Allan McDonald and his story. This book is as detailed as you would expect from an engineer whose care and rigour at his job is obvious. You are plunged right into the heart of the daily grapple with issues of the re-usable hardware in the solid rocket boosters (blowby, erosion, putty, tang clevis field joint and of course dreaded temperature issues). What is glaringly obvious as you see the teams (engineers of MTI NASA etc) working their socks off to meet the next launch review is just how hard they were all working. Two launches a month was never going to be achievable and you feel the ominous overload on man as well as the machines.
The contrast between engineering rigour and the corporate pressures is grindingly painful. A loyal employee starts to say and do things his bosses colleagues and key customer do not want him to. His confusion and pain is gripping stuff.
I would have given this 5stars but Allan's written style is clunky and long winded at times. But it his voice that your hear: picky, tenacious, professional, and above all a shining rigour to laws of physics and principles of good design. And if you don't have at least A- level science you will find much of this unreadable. But do stay with the detail (and the slightly lumpy sentence structures): you can immerse yourself in the intricacy and sheer complexity of the data and double speak arguments that came out after the event.
Being put in charge of the redesign of the rocket boosters after Challenger shows what an extraordinary man Allan is. No wonder his astronaut friends in the orbiter wanted him at launch control when in 1988, the shuttle took to the air again. A memoir that rings with integrity.
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on 6 May 2014
If you are interested in the cause of the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle then this is the book to read. It is a lengthy examination of the background and lead up, as well as the events as they happened and the subsequent investigations that led to comprehensive redesign of the solid rocket motor as told by someone intimately involved with all facets of these operations.

Given the story is intimately interwoven around human difference, with all of its complications, makes me feel the tale gains even more than if it were just limited to technical analysis. In particular here is the role of honesty, for it takes courage to stand up and tell it like it is when all those around you, people you know and are even friends with, are doing their best to tell it differently. Indeed it soon become apparent that following the setting up of Commission by President Reagan to investigate the tragedy, its appointees had their work cut out to get at the heart of the matter because critical information as related by senior NASA representatives and the hierarchy of Morton Thiokol was presented in manner short on being clear. It is not stretching the case to state that if it were not for the voice of Mr MacDonald, with support from Roger Boisjoly, then perhaps the real cause of the disaster may have been partially camouflaged, with all this would have meant to the future of the Space Shuttle.

Inevitably there is a price to pay for those who follow this route, this account relates the strains and stresses that deeply affected both Mr Boisjoly and Mr MacDonald, though in widely differing ways. Fortunately support was forthcoming at the highest level that offered both protection and help for both of this men, so allowing Mr MacDonald in particular, who proved personally strong and robust despite experiencing some resentment for having spoken out, to effectively lead the successful re-design of the solid rocket motor and so ensure the future success of the Shuttle following its return to service.

A truly outstanding book. Perhaps the best I have read for some time, certainly it is written as well as some of Bill Gunston's work, I can think of no better accolade for a largely technical work.
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on 16 February 2015
This provides a fascinating and detailed insight into the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986. Morton Thiokol manufactured the solid state motors for the shuttle launches and A.J.McDonald was their senior engineer at the launch. The night before, he recommended that the launch be abandoned over concerns that the ambient temperature was way below that which was deemed safe because of the likely failure of the 'O' rings. Eventually, Thiokol management, under pressure from NASA, overruled the recommendation of all of their top engineers and seven lives were lost. McDonald kept detailed notes of everything that happened before and after the disaster, including evidence taken by The Rodgers Commission.

His book recalls how, initially, he was sidelined by NASA, Thiokol management and colleagues. Ultimately, however, through sticking to his convictions, he became something of a hero within his profession and amongst the astronauts and was responsible for the successful redesign of the motor joints that had failed.

It is a well written account although, inevitably, very wordy and full of detail that, however, did not detract from my enjoyment. McDonald was the whistle blower who showed that, with determination, honesty could prevail.
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on 31 July 2013
In a world increasingly run by ‘professional’ managers, this makes for refreshing reading. How a few engineers stood up and were counted in the investigation into the Challenger disaster. If you’re an engineer, then this should be compulsory reading. A lesson in don’t be afraid to push back when you see something is wrong and keep your engineering hat, not your programme or management hat, on.
What would have been useful would be a section before each chapter going through the disaster as it unfolded from the astronauts’ point of view to remind readers that behind this tragedy were the lives of seven astronauts and their families. Something that those who treated MacDonald and Boisjoly with contempt would have done well to remember.
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A fascinating story, and a must read for anyone in engineering (or similar) roles where the importance of free speech, mutual respect and honesty are critical but often surpassed by ego, fear or otherwise.

This is not an 'easy' read - fairly technical throughout, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite being technical, it's extremely well written and flows nicely throughout with sound explanation and diagrams etc.

I'm extremely happy to have read this book.
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on 24 April 2016
It's an interesting read and very well written but very heavy going and there's lots of technical jargon in it. If you just want a straightforward account of the background to why Challenger exploded this is not for you. If you want to know the ins and outs of how all the machinery worked and a detailed analysis of the technical background to the mission then buy it.
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on 8 April 2017
Good book on specialist subject, more engineering detail than I needed personally.
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on 29 August 2016
Very good interesting book but could have been a bit shorter, there is a few bits that I feel were repeated. Great book though even for an amateur enthusiast of the shuttle
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on 20 December 2014
One of those books you just can't put down! McDonald relives it all with honesty and frankness. Space flight is a dangerous game made even more risky by the management decision making in the mid 1980's. Great book!
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on 28 March 2016
Excellently written and really keeps one riveted to each page - and clearly written from the heart.
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