Smoking Gun Three Mile Island/Challenger Explosion

Memos within a company serve several purposes. They may be used to report meeting agendas, policies, internal reports, or short proposals. Memos may also be used as a tool to inform staff, management, or executives of important information. Two very good examples of this are the memos written regarding the 1978 Three Mile Island Disaster, and the 1985 Challenger Explosion. Both of these disasters were forewarned by employees and addressed by memos to superiors. Bert M. Dunn of Babcock and Wilcox Company wrote a memo to his management to inform them of a potential operator error occurring at the nuclear power plants that needed to be addressed. R. M. Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, Inc. wrote a memo to the executives of his company informing them of a potential disaster that could occur on NASA flights. Although both memos discussed the severity of the situations, they were ignored by superiors. After careful examination of both memos, it is very clear that both of the memos had flaws.

With the severity of the situations at hand, the memos should have been written in a more direct, professional tone with better word choices. The memo written by Bert M. Dunn of the Babcock and Wilcox Company regarding the Three Mile Island disaster is very confusing at times. The tone of the memo did not point out the urgency in which the matter should have been addressed. The memo was written in a very technical manner and gave entirely too much detailed information.

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The last line of the memo states “I believe this is a very serious matter and deserves our prompt attention and correction”. This should have been stated at the very begging of the memo to grab the reader’s attention. The subject line should have also been more attention grabbing. It simply states, “Operator Interruption of High Pressure Injection”. This subject does not grab the reader’s attention or state the severity of the situation. In the body of the memo, the tone seems to be very nonchalant.

It describes, in a very technical way, the errors that the operators at the nuclear plant in Toledo, Ohio had performed. Through all of the technical information, one looses the sense of urgency when reading the memo. It does not seem that any points were strongly stressed in the letter. The author did state what action needed to taken, but there was not emphasis placed on the urgency. The memo written by Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, Inc. regarding the Challenger explosion had a very direct approach with a condescending tone.

The author does an excellent job at grabbing the reader’s attention. The subject line states “SRM O-Ring Erosion/Potential Failure Criticality”. With a subject line written in that manner, it stresses the urgency of the memo. In the first paragraph, of the memo the author states that the memo is written to address the seriousness of the current O-ring erosion problem. Again, this is stressing the urgency of the memo and states his purpose for publishing the memo. In the body of the memo, Mr. Boisjoly takes on a more condescending, non-professional tone. He makes two statements that could be taken as if he was questioning authority. First, “The mistakenly accepted position on the joint problem was to fly without fear and failure and to run a series of design evaluations which would ultimately lead to a solution or at least a significant reduction of the erosion problem”. This statement seems as if he does not respect the authority of the company leaders, and the decision they made regarding the joint problem. He is stating very boldly that the company made a mistake.

The second comment was “An unofficial team (a memo defining the team and its purpose was never published) with leader was formed on 19 July 1985 and was tasked with solving the problem”. In this statement, it seems as if he is chastising management for not informing the staff of the purpose of the team. Both of these statements could have turned the reader against any opinions of the author. When one is faced with the difficult task of informing leadership of potential catastrophes, it is very important to use the proper words to grab the attention of the reader. In the memo written by Mr. Dunn, regarding the Three Mile Island disaster, urgency was not stressed with his choice of words. He never explained in detail that the outcome of the operator error could be loss of life or evacuations of towns. He simply stated that “Had this event occurred in a reactor at full power with other than insignificant burnup it is quite possible, perhaps probable, that core uncover and possible fuel damage would have resulted”. The choice of words does not show that this matter could result in death.

At the end of the memo it stated, “I believe this is a very serious matter and deserves our prompt attention and correction”. This was not a strong choice of words, but good enough to show a little urgency. The memo written by Mr. Boisjoly from Morton Thiokol, Inc. does a better job at using words that would grab ones attention. The subject line uses the words failure and criticality. These words stress the importance of the memo and grab the reader’s attention. He bluntly states, “The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order – loss of human life”. In this statement, he is using words that are very strong and to the point. Both of these disasters were horrific and devastated the nation. They become even more of a disaster when one realizes that both events could have been prevented if the memos, that were written to inform others of the flaws, would have been written in a more professional manner. If the authors of the memos would have used a direct, professional tone and proper word choices, then maybe the readers would have taken the memos more seriously.

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Smoking Gun Three Mile Island/Challenger Explosion. (2019, May 01). Retrieved from