Richard Feynman at NASA

After the terrible Challenger explosion in 1986, Richard Feynman was included on an independent panel to find out what went wrong.  He discovered a profound difference between engineers’ and managements’ probability estimates for number of flights without failure.  One potential (and very important) reason that a system-ending failure can go unnoticed is the tendency of managers to believe top-down explanations. 

It’s vintage Feynman, inconoclastic, penetrating and brilliant:  

“for whatever purpose, be it for internal or
external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the
reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.”

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over
public relations, for nature cannot be fooled
.”

Just a suggestion with NASA in the news lately…though it’s clear the space shuttles are getting older.

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2 thoughts on “Richard Feynman at NASA

  1. Both great comments. One of the things I really love about Feynman is he never just accepts an explanation, he always has to figure things out for himself. His skeptisism usually led to important discoveries. His skeptisism also clearly showed that commonly held assumptions aren’t always, or even often, right and so called experts don’t always know what they are talking about.

    For anyone that hasn’t read anything from Feynman I highly recommend checking out “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman” and “What Do You Care What other People Think?”

  2. Jensen, thanks for reading.

    I agree. If I need to clarify my thinking I always pick him up.

    Part of his appeal is that skepticism of authority and independence.

    He really knew his physics too.

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