You Cannot Fool Nature

posted in: Stuff 0

Today 28 January 2016 is the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. This event shocked the world and shook NASA out of its complacency. A commission was formed to investigate. Surprisingly there was only one scientist on the commission, Richard Feynman.

He filed a minority report which was nearly suppressed and also performed his famous experiment to show the failure of the O-rings used in the shuttle engines.

Richard Feynman’s full report is available at

It starts with the following paragraph:

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask “What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?”

He also says:

…if we are to replace standard numerical probability usage with engineering judgment, why do we find such an enormous disparity between the management estimate and the judgment of the engineers? It would appear that, for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.

The report ends with

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

I often deal with the same disconnect between Management and Engineering. What amazes me is that highly qualified engineers get ignored so often.

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