In his lecture Dr. Hansen will discuss “Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster,” a powerful and award-winning book that he co-authored with Montana State University engineering graduate (Class of 1959) and aerospace industry legend Allan J. McDonald in 2009. At the center of Hansen’s analysis of the Challenger tragedy is McDonald himself, a skilled engineer and executive, who did his best, first, to oppose the controversial launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center of Space Shuttle Challenger on the cold, heartless morning of January 28, 1986, and then, for the next 35 years, until Al’s death in March 2021, fought to draw attention to the real reasons behind the disaster. Hansen’s story is not one of a mere whistle-blower but of a meticulously rigorous engineer who committed himself to addressing all of the factors—technical and non-technical—that led to the Challenger accident, some of which were never included in NASA's Failure Team report submitted to the Presidential Commission. Along the way of telling the tragic story of Challenger, Hansen will explore more generally the critical importance of failure analysis in all fields of engineering, design, construction, operation, and management of complex technological systems.

Dr. James R. Hansen, Auburn University historian and Science Matters lecturer

Dr. James R. Hansen is Emeritus Professor of History at Auburn University in Alabama. An expert in aerospace history and the history of science and technology, Hansen has published 14 books and numerous articles covering a wide variety of topics, including the early days of aviation, the history of aerospace engineering, NASA, the Moon landings, the Space Shuttle program, and China’s role in space. Jim’s book, First Man (Simon & Schuster, 2005, 2012, 2018) is the only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon. The book has twice spent three weeks as a New York Times Bestseller, garnered several major book awards, and been translated into 24 foreign languages. In 2018, First Man was turned into an Oscar-winning Hollywood film directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy as Neil and Janet Armstrong. From 1981 to 1986, Jim served as Historian-in-Residence at NASA Langley Research Center, from which he published a two-volume history of Langley: Engineer in Charge (1987) and Spaceflight Revolution (1995), the latter of which earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination, the first and only time NASA has ever nominated a book for a Pulitzer. Jim is also a former vice president of the pathbreaking Virginia Air and Space Center. He taught history at Auburn University for 31 years, with his classroom instruction earning a host of awards, notably induction into the College of Liberal Arts Teaching Hall of Fame. For six years, from 2006-2012, Jim served as Director of the Honors College at Auburn.