Synopses & Reviews
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.
The original publication of and#147;The Challenger Launch Decisionand#8221; occurred on January 28th, 1996, the 10th anniversary of that catastrophe. That very morning, a Sunday, the book was features in the New York Timesand#8217; front page story while its author was talking about the book on and#147;Good Morning America.and#8221; While everyone knew that faulty O rings were directly responsible, Vaughanand#8217;s book revealed how and why this problem was both known and ultimately discounted by NASA prior to greenlighting the flight. It quickly went on to become, and still is, the definitive account of the organizational origins of the accident and a model for understanding how complex organizations work more generally. So much so that when space shuttle Columbia disintegrated coming back itno the atmosphere seven years later, Vaughan was asked to consult for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and then to write a chapter for their formal report. This edition of the book contains a very substantial, new preface offering an insiderand#8217;s perspective on that investigation as well as explaining how the same organizational problems responsible for the Challenger disaster were also at the root of what happened to Columbia.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 533-550) and index.
About the Author
Diane Vaughan is professor of sociology and international and public affairs at Columbia University.
Table of Contents
List of Figures and Tables
Preface to the 2016 Edition
Oneand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The Eve of the Launch
Twoand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Learning Culture, Revising History
Threeand#160;and#160; Risk, Work Group Culture, and the Normalization of Deviance
Fourand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The Normalization of Deviance, 1981andndash;84
Fiveand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The Normalization of Deviance, 1985
Sixand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The Culture of Production
Sevenand#160; Structural Secrecy
Eightand#160;and#160; The Eve of the Launch Revisited
Nineand#160;and#160;and#160; Conformity and Tragedy
Tenand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Lessons Learned
Appendix Aand#160;and#160; Cost/Safety Trade-Offs? Scrapping the Escape Rockets and the SRB Contract Award DecisionAppendix Band#160;and#160; Supporting Charts and Documents
Appendix Cand#160;and#160; On Theory Elaboration, Organizations, and Historical Ethnography