Nasa's Incompetence: The Challenger And Columbia Shuttle Disasters

1538 words - 6 pages

On an unusually cool Florida morning in January 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 50,000 feet above ground just moments after liftoff killing seven crew members onboard (Palmer, Dunford, and Akin, 2009). A presidential commission, dubbed “the Rogers Commission” (hereafter, the Commission) after former Secretary of State William Rogers, was appointed to investigate the cause of the disaster. Although mechanical failure of an O-ring seal in one of the rocket boosters was identified as the physical cause, the investigation revealed something much more disheartening; organizational deficiencies at NASA had allowed potential safety hazards to be disregarded. The disastrous consequences of NASA’s organizational failure prompted calls for the organization to restructure its management to provide for better control and appoint a team dedicated to identifying and tracking potential shuttle safety hazards as well as redesigning the faulty booster joint for NASA approval. Shortly before the two year anniversary of the disaster, NASA officials declared that the Commission’s recommendations for organizational change had been successfully implemented. Unfortunately, the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia nearly three decades later and a subsequent investigation revealed that the changes made in the wake of the Challenger disaster had not endured. Factors such leaders’ perception of the change process, the type of change being implemented, organizational vision, resistance to change and other challenges all play a role in how change initiatives unfold (Palmer, Dunford, and Akin, 2009). NASA’s narrative is a testament to the complexities and challenges of not only implementing, but also sustaining organizational change.
Palmer and Dunford (2008) have derived six different images of managing organizational change based on varied assumptions about the meaning of managing change and the nature of change outcomes. An overarching distinction in the perceptions of managing change is the desire to either control or shape change outcomes. The images are further differentiated based on assumptions about the degree to which change managers influence change outcomes. Palmer, Dunford, and Akin (2009) state that these images guide change leaders in certain directions as they make sense of events unfolding around them. The caretaking image, as an ideal, maintains a controlling view of management, but also recognizes that control is acutely limited by numerous internal and external forces (Palmer and Dunford, 2008). Consequently, change unfolds independently of managers’ intentions and the objective is to “shepherd” the organization to the best of their ability (Palmer, Dunford, and Akin, 2009). In this vein, NASA took on the caretaking image in its tolerance for and eventual normalization of safety hazards. Moreover, this image can be perceived in NASA’s assumption that nothing could be done to repair the space shuttle Columbia or prevent the disaster that...

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