In 2003 NASA suffered a serious accident and seven people died. The fault had a Power Point

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On January 16, 2003, NASA’s STS-107 mission was underway. space shuttle columbia It was launched with its seven crew members into low orbit to test the effects of microgravity on the human body. Those seven people never returned to Earth.

The tragedy could have been avoided, but years later the analysis of everything that happened on those days has left a terrible conclusion: a powerpoint presentation killed those seven people.

the cursed slide

The release, as James Thomas toldIt seemed to be perfect. The crew began their task, expected to spend 16 days in space performing 80 experiments. Just one day after the mission began, NASA officials realized that something hadn’t gone right.

NASA has a protocol to review the launch with external cameras. After 82 seconds, a piece of spray foam insulation (SOFI) came off from one of the ramps that linked the shuttle to its external fuel tank.

Now it turns out that using PowerPoint for a presentation is a bad idea: Harvard researchers warn of its disadvantages

As the crew climbed at 18,500 miles per hour, the chunk of foam collided with one of the tiles from the outer edge of the left wing of the ship.

That the insulating foam came off was nothing new: it had happened in the four previous missions and was the reason that the cameras were deployed to analyze the launch. The problem is that the coup had occurred in the layer that protected the ship during its reentry to the earth.

What did NASA do? Study the possibilities and conclude that there were three: First, the astronauts could have done a space walk to check the helmet. Second, NASA could have sent another shuttle to pick up the crew. In the third, they could risk making the reentry without further.

Mission managers discussed the situation with Boeing engineers and created a report in the form of a PowerPoint presentation with 28 slides.

The conclusions revealed something important: the wing tiles were supposed to be able to tolerate impacts from the foam, but that assumption had been made under very particular conditions. The pieces of foam in the tests were 600 times smaller than those that had hit the Columbia.. To reflect those details, the engineers created this slide:

Screenshot 2022 03 14 At 12 15 21

At NASA they listened to the explanation, and the engineers believed they had conveyed the risks well. However, at NASA they believed that the engineers, even without certainty, suggested there was no damage that put the lives of the crew in danger.

The option they chose was the third. Columbia would re-enter her on February 1, 2003, at 9:16 AM (EST). At 9 a.m. that day, Dallas residents watched as the shuttle had disintegrated into pieces. The entire crew perished.

The investigation of the tragedy revealed that NASA and the engineers had had the correct information, but had made the wrong decision. Edward Tufte, a professor at Yale, explained that the problem had been in that damn slide and the way it was presented.

Screenshot 2022 03 14 At 12 21 06

The title already seemed to indicate that the risk was not particularly high, but in addition the slide had four cascading points with no detailed explanation of what they meant: the interpretation was left to the discretion of the reader.

It was not clear if the first point (1) was the main one, or if the rest of the points had the same relevance. The different font sizes, the strange hierarchy and the density of the text did not help. There were more than 100 words and vague adjectives (“enough”, “meaningful”), which made that slide too open to audience interpretation.

The biggest problem is in the last two points, where it was indicated that what they had tested in the preliminary tests was very different from what had happened. NASA itself indicated in your report after the investigation had relied too much on PowerPoint.

The expression ‘death by powerpoint‘ has been used for years to indicate how boredom or fatigue-inducing presentations are because of their information overload. A bad design and the overuse of points to order each piece of data are common problems with this and other similar applications. Sadly, in this case that expression became tragically real.

On January 16, 2003, NASA’s STS-107 mission was underway. space shuttle columbia It was launched with its seven crew members…

On January 16, 2003, NASA’s STS-107 mission was underway. space shuttle columbia It was launched with its seven crew members…

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