The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA

Overview

When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, millions of Americans became bound together in a single, historic moment. Many still vividly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the tragedy. In The Challenger Launch Decision, Diane Vaughan recreates the steps leading up to that fateful decision, contradicting conventional interpretations to prove that what occurred at NASA was not skulduggery or misconduct but a ...
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The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA

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Overview

When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, millions of Americans became bound together in a single, historic moment. Many still vividly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the tragedy. In The Challenger Launch Decision, Diane Vaughan recreates the steps leading up to that fateful decision, contradicting conventional interpretations to prove that what occurred at NASA was not skulduggery or misconduct but a disastrous mistake.

Journalists and investigators have historically cited production problems and managerial wrong-doing as the reasons behind the disaster. The Presidential Commission uncovered a flawed decision-making process at the space agency as well, citing a well-documented history of problems with the O-ring and a dramatic last-minute protest by engineers over the Solid Rocket Boosters as evidence of managerial neglect.

Why did NASA managers, who not only had all the information prior to the launch but also were warned against it, decide to proceed? In retelling how the decision unfolded through the eyes of the managers and the engineers, Vaughan uncovers an incremental descent into poor judgment, supported by a culture of high-risk technology. She reveals how and why NASA insiders, when repeatedly faced with evidence that something was wrong, normalized the deviance so that it became acceptable to them.

No safety rules were broken. No single individual was at fault. Instead, the cause of the disaster is a story not of evil but of the banality of organizational life. This powerful work explains why the Challenger tragedy must be reexamined and offers an unexpected warning about the hidden hazards of living in this technological age.

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Editorial Reviews

Gilbert Taylor
Had Margaret Mead studied the NASAns instead of the Samoans, this anthropological story of the shuttle catastrophe might have resulted. We see the bureaucratic culture that shaped the behavior of the rocket scientists: they launched "Challenger" expecting some damage to the now infamous O-rings. How they reached that position of tempting fate infuses Vaughan's account. Making arguable constructions about the engineering mentality and group-think, Vaughan focuses on the fateful teleconference the night before the launch, in which executives of the rocket manufacturer first resisted then caved into NASA's pressure to launch. For exerting that pressure, the space agency's managers were pilloried, but personalizing the blame, Vaughan believes, ignores the acculturated rules they followed--which emanated from the political and funding compromises that created the shuttle design. Though Vaughan's scholastic diction acts as narrative speed bumps, her sociological interpretation helps explain the seemingly inexplicable. This complements the dramatic and popular orientation of "No Downlink", by Claus Jensen .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226851754
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Preface
1 The Eve of the Launch 1
2 Learning Culture, Revising History 33
3 Risk, Work Group Culture, and the Normalization of Deviance 77
4 The Normalization of Deviance, 1981-1984 119
5 The Normalization of Deviance, 1985 153
6 The Culture of Production 196
7 Structural Secrecy 238
8 The Eve of the Launch Revisited 278
9 Conformity and Tragedy 334
10 Lessons Learned 387
Appendix A Cost/Safety Trade-Offs? Scrapping the Escape Rockets and the SRB Contract Award Decision 423
Appendix B Supporting Charts and Documents 432
Appendix C On Theory Elaboration, Organizations, and Historical Ethnography 456
Acknowledgments 465
Notes 469
Bibliography 533
Index 551
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2005

    An Excellent Book!

    I have learned so much from reading this book! I recommend this book to anyone who cares about how to make right decisions in an organizational setting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2005

    THE DAY WE LOST 7.

    The day that the challenger suddenly exploded the family's and the friend's lost the ones that they loved . And i still think that those seven astronots are still with their friends and family today and are watching over them and kepping them safe. I know that we can't bring them back but i think that they all cried when 9/11 happend and they told those who lost thier lives so inacently that they can still be in your lives and in thier family and friends lifeand just not your lives. I still pray for thier friend's and family for they lost the ones that they loved. That day we all lost seven astronots and yet it was in1986 all mosttwenty years a gothey are all way with me in some kind of way.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2011

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    Posted June 29, 2010

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