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NASA’s Fatal PowerPoint Slide
On Feb. 1, 2003, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members aboard.
Investigators attributed the tragedy, in part, to a surprising culprit – a poorly designed PowerPoint slide.
During Columbia’s launch, a piece of foam broke off the shuttle and struck the wing at nine times the speed of a bullet from a gun. The damaged area of the wing was designed to protect the shuttle from the high temperatures of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
The crew proceeded with the mission, and NASA engineers had 16 days to decide the safest way to get crew members back on solid ground.
They had three choices:
- Instruct astronauts to conduct a dangerous space walk and fix the damaged wing.
- Send another shuttle into orbit to rescue them.
- Let the shuttle re-enter the atmosphere with the damaged wing.
A Powerful Slide Misses the Point
Boeing engineers prepared a presentation weighing the risks of the various options.
Even the rocket scientists were confused.
The slide’s ultimate conclusion is contained in its final two bullets – the damage to the shuttle was significantly greater than what they’d conducted safety tests for.
That point was lost on NASA officials. They approved letting the shuttle re-enter Earth’s atmosphere despite inadequate safety testing – all because of a PowerPoint slide. The decision led to one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the space program.
3 Questions at the Heart of Good Communications
More than 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created every day. Boeing’s tragically ineffective slide highlights the stakes of getting communications right. That starts with keeping the goal of your message top of mind. Here are three questions that offer a high-level framework to do that: