Colloquium: October 2, 2012

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

Allan J. McDonald

TUESDAY: October 2, 2012 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Allan McDonald’s lecture focuses on his book Truth, Lies and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. It looks at the pressures to launch the Challenger, the internal cover-ups and the aftermath of the disaster. With the assistance of internationally distinguished aerospace historian James Hansen, McDonald addresses all of the factors that led to the accident, some of which were never included in NASA’s Failure Team report submitted to the Presidential Commission.

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. Allan McDonald, then director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project for the engineering contractor Morton Thiokol, had warned NASA and refused to sign a recommendation that NASA launch the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Allan McDonald, a skilled engineer and executive, relives the tragedy from where he stood at the Launch Control Center. As he fought to draw attention to the real reasons behind the disaster, he experienced retribution by individuals from NASA and his employer, Morton Thiokol, Inc., makers of the Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters.

Truth, Lies, and O-Rings is the first look at the Challenger tragedy and its aftermath from someone who was on the inside, recognized the potential disaster, and tried to prevent it. It also addresses the early warnings of very severe debris issues from the first two post-Challenger flights, which ultimately resulted in the loss of Columbia some fifteen years later. Mr. McDonald’s book will be available for purchase and signing after the lecture.


Allan McDonaldAllan J. McDonald received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University in 1959 and an M.S. in Engineering Administration from the University of Utah in 1967; retiring in 2001 from ATK Thiokol Propulsion after a 42-year career with the company. He was the Director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project at the time of the Challenger accident and led the redesign of the solid rocket motors as Vice President of Engineering for Space Operations. He has several patents related to rocket propulsion, published over 80 technical papers that have been presented in national and international conferences, and received numerous professional awards.

He received an Honorary Doctor of Engineering from Montana State University in 1986, was selected as Montana State University’s Centennial Alumnus in 1987 by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, is a Fellow member and a Distinguished Lecturer for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Orbital Technologies Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin.