Variations in Risk Management Models: A Comparative Study of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster


Managers seeking to assess risk within complex systems face enormous challenges. They must identify a seemingly endless number of risks and develop contingency plans accordingly. This study explores the strengths and limitations of two categories of risk assessment tools: product assessment techniques including Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) and Risk in Early Design (RED) and process assessment techniques, such as Layer of Protection Analysis (LOPA) and the Swiss Cheese Model (SCM). A NASA case study is used to evaluate these risk assessment models. The case study considers the January, 1986, explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, 73 seconds after liftoff. This incident resulted in the loss of seven crew members and consequently grave criticisms of NASA's risk management practices. The article concludes with comparison and recommendations for engineering managers on selecting risk assessment tools for complex systems.


Engineering Management and Systems Engineering

Second Department

Psychological Science

Keywords and Phrases

Failure mode and effect analysis; FMEA; FTA; LOPA; Process risks; Risk assessment models; Risk management models; Risk management practices, Managers; NASA; Product design; Risk management; Space shuttles; Tools; Risk assessment; Product and process risk analysis

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





© 2013 American Society for Engineering Management, All rights reserved.