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Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle <i>Challenger</i> Disaster

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  262 ratings  ·  40 reviews

On a cold January morning in 1986, NASA launched the Space Shuttle Challenger, despite warnings against doing so by many individuals, including Allan McDonald. The fiery destruction of Challenger on live television moments after launch remains an indelible image in the nation’s collective memory.

In Truth, Lies, and O-Rings, McDonald, a skilled engineer and executive,

Kindle Edition, 649 pages
Published March 11th 2012 by University Press of Florida (first published April 26th 2009)
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Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle, 2016
Depressing but fascinating. I couldn't put the book down. The amount of CYA that was done, the level of non-cooperation with the Rogers Commission by NASA MSFC and Thiokol...I'd wish it weren't true. But some of the astronauts that I've worked/interacted with, as well as the former Shuttle PM (Wayne Hale) recommended the book, so I think it is probably more true than not. More terrifying, the shuttle crews that this disaster impacted (because Challenger was not an isolated o-ring incident; it ...more
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think most of us know the official causes of the Challenger disaster. But this book examines the disaster through one of the engineers aside from Roger Boisjoly that raised concerns about the launch.

While some of the sections are repetitive through the book, because of the technical complexity I find it a necessary evil. Having said that, the book is remarkably easy to read and doesn't have the mish-mosh of TLAs one would expect of engineering and scientific writing. The background, the
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeff by: Freakonomics podcast
I listened to a Freakonomics podcast about failure and it referenced this book during an interview with Allan McDonald ( It's a long one - almost 600 pages - and it took me awhile to get through it, but I enjoyed the read very much. Although the book was at times overly technical for my tastes, it was a fascinating read about the known O-ring problems in the solid rocket motor joints that precipitated the Challenger explosion, as well as the ...more
May 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
My father worked for Morton-Thiokol at the time of the Challenger disaster. While he hasn't read this book yet, he says that this is the person he trusts to tell the truth.

It was great to hear this first-hand account and to compare it to my father's stories and my own memories. I was surprised at how much I actually understood as a child. There were a few surprises, but not many. I guess my father did a good job explaining it all.

Allan McDonald writes like you'd expect an engineer to write.
Shane Phillips
May 25, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Blah blah. 6hrs into audiobook before accident occurs. Sad to say but because of that it was almost a relief when disaster happened in the book. I was so sick of hearing writers job history and each booster test and whether there was any nozzle wear.
This is the first extensive account I have read of the Challenger disaster. The book seems so patently biased to me that I am left wondering how much of it I can believe and feeling that it's necessary to read another account. However, after 500 pages on Challenger, it's definitely time for a break.

The good - It's detailed. To a fault. McDonald was there for most of what happened before and after the disaster, and so the details are covered in-depth. I really feel McDonald omitted nothing
Oct 04, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
A testament to one of the greatest case studies on existential risk, Al McDonald's text is one of the most exceptionally documented, detailed and insightful works on the emergence of catastrophic risk produced.

As one who manages enterprise and operational risk in global financial processing, Al's work provides an invaluable illustration into the encroachment of the political into the realm of technical risk. I've yet to encounter a similar work that is so well documented and objective, yet makes
Stephen Maser
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is epic. Not just in length, but also in the amount of detail that the author has put in. I found this book very interesting but the reader should keep in mind that it is extraordinarily biased. It is a memoir, not a straightforward telling of the facts from all sides. You definitely get the perspective of McDonald’s position before, during, and after the Challenger disaster. You can also tell that he is an engineer and it reads like one is writing. There are plenty of details that ...more
OMG, finally got through this freaking book. It was tough to finish. I really like the information in it, but the writing was not pleasant. He repeats himself over and over, sometimes from one page to the next. He also includes SO MANY unnecessary details! I don't care that you ordered pizza while you were figuring out your speech. Hell, I don't care when or where you were figuring out your speech. Just tell me about the content. This book could have been half the length and would have been a ...more
Ro Drop
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Space Shuttle and aerospace is just part of it. This book details how hard it is to speak up and do the right thing before and after an event. Must read for people in management to learn how putting money and profit first is not a wise idea when lives are involved.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important book, but I think there are a few things that the reader should know going in. First - this is not an unbiased account of Challenger, this is McDonald's memoir. It is written in the first person and does not include any outside points of view. He will do his best to convince you of what he believes is correct, and you can decide to believe him or not. Despite how he was treated by Morton Thiokol, he is certainly a company man.

Second, it is extremely technical. I don't think
Fraser Kinnear
A first-hand account of being the whistle-blower at a tragedy and almost-cover-up of global-proportions. There's some incredibly powerful "Here I stand" moments, in particular at the Rogers Commission that make for phenomenal drama. It's also a reminder that the suffering of a whistle-blower doesn't end when they are vindicated, as McDonald and other whistle-blowers' careers sometimes suffered from the fallout for years after.

McDonald seems to have written a book more "for the records" than for
kingfish 94
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very long. Very technical (I appreciated that) Heartbreaking in that NASA got way, way too big for its britches. They (NASA) were just going to keep on killing astronauts, schedules be dammed. This tragedy was SO preventable. A generation or so later, bam, they did it again. (Columbia) How is it that when astronauts die, the people ON THE GROUND say 'Uh, oh....I guess we shouldn't have done XYZ!'
I'm for space exploration as much as the next guy, but NASA...... I'm glad they're not flying
Bryce Edlund
Truth, Lies and O-Rings is a sad story of the negligence that brought down the Challenger space shuttle. The book is very detailed, and was written by Allan McDonald, a man who worked for the company that manufactured the O-Ring that led to the disaster. He was the director of the space shuttle motor project. He tells the story of what happened and how this tragedy did not need to happen. If you enjoy true stories that involve space exploration or stories that are tragic you will like this book.
Tally, The Chatty Introvert
Heck of a book, chock full of more than just the initial Challenger investigation through the eyes of one who worked with the program and testified (over and over) as to the unheeded warnings he and others provided to NASA. Part memoir, part engineering text, part history, and part a story about ethics in the midst of a blame game, I think this is worth a read for those who want to get the gist how far reaching those 73 seconds became to the engineers, NASA, and those around them.
Jun 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative book about the Challenger Shuttle disaster. While informative, and interesting, the book was way too long, often quite repetitive, sometimes too technical, and written from one point of view.
Edward Woodward
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very technical, but it truly points out NASA's attempted cover up and bullying and MTI's upper management bending to NASA's will rather than listening to their own engineers.

Well worth reading if you are at all interested in the United States "reach for the stars"
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book NASA knew about the issues with the Space Shuttle and was happy to cover it up but the for profit company was the one that told NASA not to launch. Very interesting book and well written. Very detailed.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating topic, poorly edited. The dryness of the engineering topic is exacerbated by repetitiveness - multiple paragraphs that say the same thing in different ways. The author re-introduces important personae multiple times as if they had not previously been mentioned.
Cold have been 25% shorter.

An interesting read none the less. The bureaucracy of NASA et all, brought me back to my early engineering days.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must-read for all rocket engineers!
RVJ Callanan
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like it or not, Allan McDonald's insider account of the Challenger Disaster is a book for the ages. The first 20% is necessarily tedious which may put off the more superficial or time-pressed reader. Here, I am especially thinking of tech managers who have become so beholden to corporate speak that they have lost touch with their technical grassroots. If you find yourself sliding into this miasma, you will have most to gain from the lessons of this book — as will your employer because any ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a difficult book for me to review. It is a very technical book, chocked full of engineering terminology, acronyms and complex engineering concepts. It was a hard slog for me, with no engineering background or experience.
The Challenger disaster was so tragic and sadly it was totally avoidable. McDonald's book details the failings of NASA and Morton Thiokol to prevent the preventable, resulting in the deaths of seven astronauts in a fiery explosion, witnessed by families on the ground and
Ron Frisard
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being an engineer myself, this book showed me that when people are put into difficult situations that very few react for the better good and stand up to tell the truth but Mr. McDonald did. Allan McDonald should be celebrated for his courage to take on his employer and NASA about what really happened the day of the Challenger disaster. Not only did he speak up, he was relentless in getting the shuttle program back up and running.
I fully enjoyed hearing this story from the man himself with exact
Apr 13, 2016 added it
A very personal account

If you're a space techno geek and want to really understand the problems Challenger faced and the misguided decision to launch that fateful day, this is a book for you.

Al McDonald became the most hated man by NASA and Morton Thiokol management in the aftermath of Challenger. McDonald who raised concerns about the Orings for over a year was the first to tell the world what the inner dialog between NASA and its contractor MTI was like the night before the launch.

Brent Mckay
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating overview of the Challenger disaster and government dysfunction, from a whistle-blower who revealed the underlying causes of the accident to the Presidential (Rogers) Commission. Too long and too full of engineering details and personal squabbles in places, but who cares, it's a great historical document. McDonald was right about everything that mattered, and suffered quite a bit for his dedication and opinions.
Bill Butler
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
A worthwhile read

I found the book to be highly informative and a compelling read at times. As at least one of the other reviewers pointed out this book has a highly technical slant that could leave many readers in the dark. Also I found that some material was repetitive as if the author anticipated you picking up the book in the middle.
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a deep and technical read, mostly quite good. It's a little heavy-handed--I think he made his point perfectly well without the occasional banging on it. There are a few cases of summarizing material from earlier in the book as if it weren't there and the reader were completely unfamiliar, which can be a bit jarring.
Christopher Prosser
Interesting aspect of the disaster. I liked the first hand accounts of some of the key meetings earlier in the book, but grew tiresome of the authors insistence that his memory is perfectly accurate and everyone else is wrong. Having learned much about the fallibility of human memory, I think there are multiple experiences that happen in any event. I didn't finish the book.
Reads like a technical manual. If you paid attention to this in 1986, then most of it will be a highly detailed, highly technical recounting of this unfortunate event from the perspective of the ultimate insider. And you'll be reminded once again that this national tragedy could have easily been avoided.
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