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

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University of Chicago Press, Jan 28, 1996 - Social Science - 575 pages
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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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User Review  - nandadevi - LibraryThing

The Challenger Space Shuttle disaster has become a favoured model for management gurus who talk glibly about amoral decision making, internal communication failures and the normalisation of aberrance ... Read full review

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User Review  - PointedPundit - LibraryThing

Institutions Create and Condone Risk The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986. To millions of viewers, it is a moment they will never forget. Official inquiries into the accident ... Read full review

Contents

THE EVE OF THE LAUNCH
1
LEARNING CULTURE REVISING HISTORY
33
RISK WORK GROUP CULTURE AND THE NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE
77
THE NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE 198184
119
THE NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE 1985
153
THE CULTURE OF PRODUCTION
196
STRUCTURAL SECRECY
238
THE EVE OF THE REVISITED
278
LESSONS LEARNED
387
CostSafety Tradeoffs? Scrapping the Escape Rockets and the SRB Contract Award Decision
423
Supporting Charts and Documents
432
On Theory Elaboration Organizations and Historical Ethnography
456
Acknowledgments
465
Notes
469
Bibliography
533
Index
551

CONFORMITY AND TRAGEDY
334

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About the author (1996)

Diane Vaughan is professor of sociology and international and public affairs at Columbia University.

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