Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyWhen the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, killing all seven crew members, the U.S. Air Force may not have been surprised-its experts' confidential report issued just three months earlier had concluded that the shuttle was one of the most dangerous technological systems ever built. In a gripping narrative that comprises a strong cautionary tale, Jensen, a Danish professor of literature, views the Challenger disaster as a prime example of the crippling bureaucracy of large organizations. Documenting a series of hair-raising technical failures, accidents, mishaps and near-disasters that plagued NASA from the late 1950s onward, Jensen shows how infighting between government agencies, bureaucratic inertia and NASA's fear that the armed forces would withdraw support for a civilian space program all contributed to the Challenger tragedy. Although Jensen relies on secondary sources and on the Presidential fault-finding commission led by physicist Richard Feynman, this is nevertheless a significant study of the Challenger disaster and of NASA's corporate culture. (Jan.)
Library JournalTen years ago, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing its crew of seven. The disaster also destroyed NASA's reputation as the "can-do" agency that put men on the moon-the competent exception among its fellow federal bureaucracies. This narrative by a Danish professor of literature long fascinated with the space race traces not only the history of the Space Age but also places the story of the Challenger disaster in a broader social and political context, concluding that such high-tech catastrophes are inevitable as the organizations and systems that sustain today's technology grow increasingly complex and unmanageable. Jensen's use of the Rogers Commission hearings that examined the accident with a particular focus on the late physicist Richard Feynman's role as devil's advocate highlight his analysis and serves to frame the story as a cautionary tale of how organizations court disaster when unrealistic goals-in this case an impossibly heavy flight schedule-conflict with reality. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. [Also coming in January is Diane Vaughan's The Challenger Launch Decision from Univ. of Chicago.-Ed.]-Thomas J. Frieling, Bainbridge Coll., Ga.
Gilbert TaylorAfter the space shuttle disaster in 1986, the most galling aspect in the matter was the low tech cause: cold rubber rings. Here was hubris at its most naked, and Jensen, a Danish literature teacher whose style rests on detachment and understatement, dramatizes the political, technical, and bureaucratic legacies that exploded at "T plus 73 seconds." Broadly, this is a riveting echo of "The Right Stuff" but shorn of Wolfe's entertaining though overheated bombast about heroism. Jensen skirts across the Space Age, up through Apollo, and then concentrates on how the "Challenger" came to be. What we have is not the design NASA wanted. The solid fuel rockets that caused the accident were a typical compromise between space-budgeting politics and engineering optima. The critical link in the decision chain was the rocket contractor's change of mind, at NASA's behest, in favor of launching in cold weather. But that pressure had antecedents that conditioned people to ever narrower safety margins, so that the once insanely dangerous eventually looked like normal risk. Jensen's story is not about hardware; it's about "software," the people responsible for launching the "Challenger" that day, and the seven people riding it, including schoolteacher McAuliffe. Their lives at the collision point between technology and human foible compel this narrative into page-turning status, which ought to induct it into the club of best-written general narratives about the space program.
BooknewsRecounts the story of the Challenger disaster and subsequent investigations, traces the history of rockets and the development of the NASA culture, and looks at the Challenger as a symbol. No index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st ed
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