Challenger Speech

“On January 28, 1986, the NASA shuttle orbiter mission STS-51-L and the tenth flight of Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-99) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members, which consisted of five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists.” Lives were lost that day, our space Program was forever changed, grounding the fleet for nearly three years and the lives of family members, friends and those who were involved in the construction and send off of the shuttle were forever shattered. I saw this first hand when years later I was lucky enough to go to work as Senior Mechanical Engineer at Thiokol Propulsion. I saw the impact the Challenger accident had and continued to have decades later on the lives of the men and women who created and refurbished the solid rocket boosters and was told more times that I can count “They should have screamed louder, we all should have spoken up and made our speech, We didn’t find our voice.”

For those of you too young to have remembered the details or those who were too removed at the time this may not make sense and you are probably wondering what in the world does this have to do with Quality Control? It has everything to do with Quality Control. The morning the Challenger lifted off, the morning of “January 28 was unusually cold, and engineers warned their superiors that certain components—particularly the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters—were vulnerable to failure at low temperatures. However, these warnings went unheeded, and at 11:39 a.m. Challenger lifted off.” The O-ring failure was the cause of the explosion. I sat in school like so many of us did that morning and watched the lift off and explosion never in my wildest dreams imagining that someday I would get to work with and speak to the men and women involved in the space shuttle design, creation and some who were involved in the discussions of whether or not to fly that day. After seeing firsthand the loss, regret and sadness over the warnings not being heard, or spoken loudly enough I vowed NEVER to make that mistake in my career and have trained every Quality Control Manager I have been blessed to cross paths with to also understand the importance of “A CHALLENGER SPEECH”.

All Quality Control Managers must find their voice! We must speak up when products are not going in as specified or designed. It is up to us to insure what we oversee being built is built safely, accurately and to last. In short this is our job. We will forever be shattered if we do not find our voice. You may be saying to yourself well we are not all involved in Rocket Science or shooting men and women into space so does one bolt, one miss fitting, one wrong truss, I-beam, or piece of equipment really mean that much. Yes, yes it does, lives are affected by our daily choices as Quality Control Managers. Lives are affected whether it is a cost hitting ownership of the General Contractor we work for affecting their livelihood, lost jobs due to necessary cut backs after issues are found, full company shut downs due to project’s lost time, rework, or claims filed which can affect hundreds of lives or worst case loss of life due to inferior products or workmanship allowed to happen in the field. We must never take the need to find our voice as Quality Control Managers lightly.

We do understand this is sometimes easier said than done and there are unfortunately those instances where QC’s feel threatened and that their jobs are held in the balance with their voice or silence. However we must never forget the Challenger and that a loss of one job over the lifetime of a career is minimal when the big picture of a lifetime of possible regret, and our reputation is weighed against it. At Beckrich we are strong believers that Quality Control Managers should not directly report to Superintendents or Project Managers. Quality Control Managers need to directly report to a Corporate Quality Control Manager or Ownership in order to be truly effective. Superintendents and Project Managers have other priorities (money and schedule) which we have seen over and over again conflict with and steer QC’s away from their voice and being able to do their jobs. We hope as a Quality Control Manager you have found a home with a company that values Quality Control Managers as Beckrich does and you are allowed to find your voice without fear or reservations. If this is not the case our heart goes out to you as we have been in those positions throughout our careers and even lost jobs due to refusing to silence our voice but we are hopeful that you remain strong and always remember to give your loudest and clearest Challenger Speeches. Our daily decisions as Quality Control Managers do matter.

If you are a new QC training is the key to understanding Quality Control Requirements which will help you to find your voice. Beckrich has a QC 101 training module for QC Managers available on our website at Beckrich Quality Control Division wants to help you to have the tools you need to succeed.

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