Space Shuttle Challenger Failure

Improved Essays
In January of 1986, a conference call was conducted between NASA and Morton Thiokol Corporation engineers. The next day, the space shuttle Challenger was scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Engineers with Morton Thiokol attempted to convince NASA to delay Challenger’s launch because the icy temperatures could cause the O-rings to fail, leading to catastrophic consequences. The O-rings sealed the rocket’s motor joints; made of rubber, they were likely to lose elasticity in the freezing temperatures the night before the launch. Morton Thiokol’s engineers were unable to persuade NASA to delay the launch and within a minute of take-off, the Challenger’s booster rockets exploded, destroying the shuttle and all its occupants, including …show more content…
NASA was under pressure to make the space shuttle program profitable, or at least able to fund itself through cargo fees (Bolman & Deal, 2008). The U.S. deficit was soaring, and programs like the space shuttle were considered expendable by Congress. NASA’s leaders were afraid to delay the launch after falling behind schedule and numerous flight delays threatened their standing with Congress and the public. Seventeen years later, similar problems would lead to another NASA tragedy, the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. Although the technical reasons for the Columbia’s destruction were massive system failures, the true reasons were eerily similar to the Challenger disaster, in that they were really the result of organizational failure. NASA was once again in the spotlight, as the organization was thoroughly examined and found lacking as a result of “organizational breakdowns” (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 191) and “institutional failure” (p. …show more content…
NASA lacked a vision and mission that focused on safe and successful launches above any other priorities within the agency. Managers at both NASA and Morton Thiokol failed to listen to their expert engineers when making decisions about the Challenger launch. If NASA’s mission focused on safe and successful launches, managers would have had guidelines in making their decisions, enabling them to make the right decision in the face of competing interests. Ensuring managers and leaders maintain objectivity is critical in examining the political structure within organizations (Bolman & Deal, 2008). Managers at NASA were not objective about the goals of the entire organization, and instead allowed external pressure to contribute to their decision making. Anticipating and recognizing conflict among competing interests is a critical element of the political frame. NASA should have implemented organization-wide training in negotiation and bargaining (Bolman & Deal, 2008) to help managers learn to wield power while maintaining their safety

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