My Copy: 9780813041933 (image from bn.com)
I first heard about this book after listening to a Freakonomics podcast about mistakes, the cost of mistakes, or mistaken/wishful thinking. They spoke to Allan J. McDonald, and I knew I had to get this book to learn more about it.
And it’s initially intimidating–far longer than I suspected it would be.
But chock full of great info. The controversy over the flight and the 73 seconds burned into our collective national memory were just the beginning.
Truth, Lies, and O-Rings is part memoir, part engineering text (and ethics in particular), and part history. The first couple of chapters are pretty tough to get through if you’re not an engineer, with all he engineering jargon and NASA terms and labels. But if you let yourself absorb it, it makes the rest of the book far easier to follow.
Not to say you’ll be speaking like you work there (that might take a couple of years), but you’ll get enough of a grasp that you can follow discussions or reminiscences.
Allan J. McDonald was one of the men who worked on and designed the solid rocket boosters, later discovered to be the initial cause of the Challenger explosion. What most don’t know (unless you watch a ton of shuttle docs like me the past few years) is there were other close-calls in the shuttle program regarding cold weather and the infamous O-Ring seals in the SSRB joints (called SRBs in the book, by the way).
It took me a while to get through this book because there’s so much in it. I knew about the Presidential Commission to investigate the disaster–heck, I’ve got a copy somewhere that I’ve been thumbing through the past few weeks. I didn’t realize how intensive those things can be, and in all honesty, how much courage McDonald had to tell the truth as he knew it and could demonstrate, NASA and Morton Thikol be damned.
And to read about the slights, digs, and possible retaliations…yeah, I’d love to know what was going through management’s head in each case.
I think this is a very necessary book to read, up there with other books about so-called “whistleblowers” who are trying to do their best and make change. He didn’t tell the truth out of disgust exactly–he told it because he understood a mistake they made killed seven astronauts and could endanger more if it wasn’t addressed.
Definitely a book to read if you’re a space buff, engineering buff, like memoir, history, NASA, the space race, or want to understand more how government works outside the normal sausage-grind. I’ll be hanging onto this one for reference.