Truth, Lies, and O-Rings by Allan J. McDonald with James R. Hansen. University Press of Florida, 2009, 627 pp., $39.95.
What would you do if you were an engineer working for a powerful company and your decision to cancel an upcoming space launch due to a faulty part was overruled by that company and your own supervisors, a decision that led to catastrophic results? In Truth, Lies, and O-Rings Allan McDonald attempts to answer the question of how NASA’s decision to overrule his warning regarding a faulty part and launch the space shuttle Challenger ended in its destruction and the death of its crew. Truth, Lies, and O-Rings is the firsthand account by a man directly involved in the design tests of the rings, Challenger’s launch, and the cover-up that followed the catastrophe.
McDonald describes the flaws that he and fellow engineers discovered in the O-ring and explains why he refused to support NASA’s decision to launch the Challenger. He details the political and economic consequences (lawsuits against Thiokol by the families of the Challenger’s crew and congressional hearings on the decisions) and the internal fallout (reprisal attempts against him and relocating those involved in the decision to different departments). He concludes with the aftereffects of the tragedy and the end of his career with Thiokol.
While Truth, Lies, and O-Rings explains the how and why of the designs, the tests, the management decisions, and the events leading up to Challenger’s destruction, McDonald sidetracks the reader with unrelated personal details. While these may be interesting, they detract from the overall impact of the story. The reader does not need a chapter devoted to his background nor a 28-page bibliographical essay devoted to the books and conspiracy theories resulting from the Challenger disaster. The book also drags out chapters that could have been combined into a single one or made into a short summary.
With the space shuttle program now retired, the question still lingers as to how the Challenger tragedy came to pass. Truth, Lies, And O-Rings attempts to explain the how and the why of this tragedy but fails to fully answer why McDonald waited over two decades to write a book that could have had a significant impact on post-Challenger missions. While the book may be of interest to space historians, its overall value to the military reader is minimal.
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