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Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  323 ratings  ·  47 reviews
What they didn’t want you to know
"We all watched in shock and disbelief when Challenger was lost. Probably no one felt more disappointment and regret than Allan McDonald, who had warned us not to launch that day. His story tells of loss, grief, and the eventual rebuilding and recovery."--Robert "Hoot" Gibson, former Space Shuttle pilot and commander
"A major contribut
Hardcover, 648 pages
Published April 26th 2009 by University Press of Florida
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Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction, kindle
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 wa ...more
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 accid
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 investigatio ...more
May 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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. The
Shane Phillips
May 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
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.
Feb 21, 2016 rated it liked it
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 signif
Oct 04, 2010 marked it as to-read
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
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
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 ve ...more
Stephen Maser
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 cou ...more
Ro Drop
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Oh my, what a slog. This was so dry. It was so repetitive. And that's a shame, because this is one of those tragic events burned into the memories of many Americans, and I was really kind of psyched to read an expert's take on what happened. I remember watching this in my first grade classroom, and being horrified at what had just happened. Like 9/11, like JFK's assassination, like Pearl Harbor, if you were alive when it occurred, you know exactly where you were when you heard the news.

I've rea
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
Aug 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, space, nasa, 600page
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
Marielle Pellegrino
Sep 25, 2020 rated it liked it
It drives me a little mad at how long this book is and how long it needs to be. The first part is filled with technical details that as this is more my field I could skim and read over them but would seriously confuse and bog down the lay reader. With that said, I do think this is a good book to read on this tragedy. Written from the perspective of the whistle blower it gives an interesting perspective and immerses the reader in the events that unfold. Unfortunately, the narrator is kind of unli ...more
kingfish 94
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 shuttle
Bryce Edlund
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Edward Woodward
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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"
Jun 15, 2019 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
matthew sipek
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fictions
Extremely important book for anybody in the aerospace industry to read and very important for anybody else.

Shows how, in a hundred thousand strong engineering workforce, one human with integrity can make a difference.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for all rocket engineers!
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.
Paddy Fagan
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
A real insiders view of the process, problems and tragedy of the challenger disaster - a key set of insights for anyone leading or managing engineer teams in any domain.
Pam R
Oct 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great book to listen to! Perfect subject for audiobook.
Michael Mckenna
Jan 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A grind of a read with lots of technical information, but interesting know about the inside of what went on and all the deliberations I didn’t realized happened when I was in 3rd grade.
RVJ Callanan
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like it or not, Allan McDonald's insider account of the Challenger Disaster is a book for the ages. The early chapters are 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 are losing 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
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
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
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“one cannot legislate, dictate, or veto the laws of physics, and politics has no place in technical decisions. The” 0 likes
“The primary element of the SRBs was the solid rocket motor provided by Morton Thiokol. USBI supplied the forward and aft aluminum skirts, the external tank attach ring for attaching the SRBs to the ET, the explosive bolts for holding the SRBs on the mobile launch platform, the pyrotechnics and electronics for the SRB separation and recovery system, the hydrazine-powered hydraulic thrust vector actuation system for moving the solid rocket motor nozzles for steering the vehicle, the booster separation motors (four each on top and bottom of each solid rocket booster to separate the SRBs from the ET after motor burnout), and the nose cap, frustum, parachutes, and recovery system for the SRBs. To” 0 likes
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