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In the fateful winter morning of January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger stood poised for launch. Overnight, the temperature had plummeted into the twenties. At liftoff it was a crisp 36 degrees F. Four-foot icicles still clung ominously to the launch tower.

Allan McDonald, an engineer employed by the manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters that straddled the shuttle, shuddered, but not because of the cold. Research had shown that the O rings sealing the sections of each booster might be more likely to leak as the temperature dropped. In fact, the rings had never been tested during an actual launch below 51 degrees F.

McDonald stood virtually alone as he steadfastly opposed the launch that icy morning, but he was overruled. The launch went ahead as scheduled, and 73 seconds later six brave astronauts and one enthusiastic school teacher lost their lives when the O rings failed.

Was Allan McDonald arrogant when he challenged the decision to launch? Was he intolerant? Any thinking person would say no. He just was unwilling to see innocent people die because others had ignored or distorted the facts. We would say Allan McDonald knew the truth, and he stood up for it.

Mike Bellah, “Truth and Tragedy,” (Garland, TX: American Tract Society), 1992

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