Key figure in space shuttle Challenger accident history to present lecture at Auburn

AUBURN – Allan J. McDonald, director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project at the time of the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986, will present a lecture on the Challenger disaster on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 3 p.m. in Broun Hall Auditorium, room 238. The timing of the lecture coincides with a national commemoration of the Challenger disaster which occurred 25 years ago on Jan. 28, 1986.

The lecture is sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, the Honors College, the Department of History and the Department of Aerospace Engineering. It is free and open to the public.

In his lecture, McDonald will recount the tragedy as he watched it unfold from where he stood that morning at Kennedy Space Center’s launch control center, recounting his personal attempts to stop the launch from happening.

Subsequent to the disaster, McDonald accurately diagnosed the problem with the troubled rocket booster’s joints and was instrumental in implementing the sweeping changes that markedly improved the safety of the Shuttle’s future missions.

Along with co-author James Hansen, Auburn history professor and director of the Honors College, McDonald in 2009 published “Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.” The book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 2011 Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award.

McDonald and Hansen will be available to sign copies of their book both before and after the lecture. The Auburn University Bookstore will have copies of the book on sale outside Broun Auditorium from 2:30 to 4:15 p.m.

“The story is a fascinating one about leadership’s role in safety assessments, ethics, engineering and personal resilience,” said Hansen. “Students, educators, engineers, professionals at all levels and executives will be educated and inspired by McDonald’s story – reminding them again of some of the most powerful and timeless lessons of leadership by example.”

McDonald received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Montana State University in 1959 and an M.S. degree in engineering administration from the University of Utah in 1967. He retired from ATK Thiokol Propulsion after a 42-year career with the company.

Following the Challenger accident, he led the redesign of the solid rocket motors as vice president of engineering for space operations. He has several patents related to rocket propulsion and has published over 80 technical papers that have been presented in national and international conferences.

He received an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Montana State University in 1986 and was selected as Montana State University’s Centennial Alumnus in 1987 by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. He is also 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.

More information on Allan J. McDonald and the book, “Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster” can be found on the website at

(Contributed by James Hansen.)

Contact: James Hansen : (334) 844-6628 (, or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (