Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program

Overview

Inside NASA explores how an agency praised for its planetary probes and expeditions to the moon became notorious for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and a series of other malfunctions. Using archival evidence as well as in-depth interviews with space agency officials, Howard McCurdy investigates the relationship between the performance of the American space program and NASA's organizational culture. He begins by identifying the beliefs, norms, and practices that guided NASA's early successes. ...

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Overview

Inside NASA explores how an agency praised for its planetary probes and expeditions to the moon became notorious for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and a series of other malfunctions. Using archival evidence as well as in-depth interviews with space agency officials, Howard McCurdy investigates the relationship between the performance of the American space program and NASA's organizational culture. He begins by identifying the beliefs, norms, and practices that guided NASA's early successes. Originally, the agency was dominated by the strong technical culture rooted in the research-and-development organizations from which NASA was formed. To launch the expeditions to the moon, McCurdy explains, this technical culture was linked to an organizational structure borrowed from the Air Force ballistic-missile program. Changes imposed to accomplish the lunar landing—along with the normal aging process and increased bureaucracy in the government as a whole—gradually eroded NASA's original culture and reduced its technical strength.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Nature

McCurdy is surely on the right track. His valuable book makes the literature on organizational cultures accessible and reveals new ways to look at high-technology agencies.

Nature

McCurdy is surely on the right track. His valuable book makes the literature on organizational cultures accessible and reveals new ways to look at high-technology agencies.

Booknews
Explores how an agency praised for its planetary probes and expeditions to the Moon became noted for the Challenger explosion and a series of other malfunctions. Using archival evidence as well as interviews with agency officials, the author investigates the relationship between the performance of the US space program and NASA's organizational culture. He concludes that, given the conditions of modern government, the performance of high-technology agencies like NASA inherently tends to decline. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801849756
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1994
  • Series: New Series in NASA History
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Howard E. McCurdy is professor of public affairs at the American University. He is the author of The Space Station Decision: Incremental Politics and Technical Choice, also available from Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: NASA's Organizational Culture 1
1 Building Blocks 11
The Research Laboratories 11
The Rocket Engineers 14
Human Space Flight 17
The Science Centers 20
A Confederation of Cultures 22
2 Root Assumptions 25
Research and Testing 26
In-House Technical Capability 34
Hands-On Experience 42
Exceptional People 50
3 Breaking Barriers 61
Risk and Failure 61
Frontier Mentality 71
The First Generation 78
4 Becoming Conventional 90
Organizing for Apollo 91
Aging and Organizational Chance 99
Decreasing Flexibility 106
Increasing Bureaucracy 111
Growing More Conservative 118
Fighting for Survival 124
Weakening Organization 129
5 Losing the Technical Culture 133
Contracting Out 134
Going Operational 141
Flight Testing 146
Risk and Technology 150
The Distance Thesis and Exceptional Employees 155
Conclusion: Governmental Performance and Cultural instability 159
NASA's Original Culture 160
Organizational Culture and Change 163
Culture and Performance 172
Appendix: NASA Culture Survey 175
Essay on Sources 185
Notes 193
Index 209
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