Now, let me make this very clear: PowerPoint had absolutely nothing to do with the Columbia disaster. Let me repeat that so there’s no confusion: NOTHING.
The CAIB Report is 248 pages long and mentions PowerPoint on one page (pg 191), as an interesting sidebar only. If you read the entire report, you will learn three important things:
1. Experts disagreed. There were experts who disagreed that a 2-pound piece of foam could cause severe damage to Columbia’s wing even if it struck at 500 mph. Foam strikes were common and had never caused serious damage to any past shuttles. NASA managers had no conclusive evidence the wing was damaged and conflicting recommendations from different camps.
2. The slides succeeded! The Boeing engineers could not prove the wing was damaged and requested the Department of Defense aim its high-powered cameras into space to take pictures of the damaged wing. That was what they used their PowerPoint slides to support and they succeeded! After several tries, the engineers’ requests for in-flight photos of the wing were granted, because of (or in spite of) their PowerPoint slides.
3. The decision was political. But, the manager in charge Linda Ham CANCELLED the request. Why? Because she was scheduled to be Manager of Launch Integration on the next shuttle launch and classifying the foam strike as a critical issue would delay that launch. Her decision to cancel the engineers’ request was purely political. It had nothing to do with an unclear PowerPoint slide.
Nothing could persuade Ham to cancel the fateful re-entry without conclusive evidence there was danger to Columbia. There was no evidence and she blocked access to the in-flight photos that might provide that evidence.
In fact, the CAIB Report states NASA should have asked for evidence it was SAFE to re-enter, not for evidence it was NOT SAFE. that would have lead to a search for the truth. Nothing could save the seven astronauts from their fate, including a well-written text document.
Any accusation that PowerPoint contributed to the Columbia disaster is, at least, lazy fact-checking and, at worst, malicious disregard for the truth in order to advance your own message.
About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.