- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (April 15, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226851761
- ISBN-13: 978-0226851761
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 44 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
The loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 is usually ascribed to NASA's decision to accept a safety risk to meet a launch schedule. Vaughan, a professor of sociology at Boston College, argues instead that the disaster's roots are to be found in the nature of institutional life. Organizations develop cultural beliefs that shape action and outcome, she notes. NASA's institutional history and group dynamics reflected a perception of competition for scarce resources, which fostered a structure that accepted risk-taking and corner-cutting as norms that shaped decision-making. Small, seemingly harmless modifications to technical and procedural standards collectively propelled the space agency toward disaster even though no specific rules were broken. While Vaughan's complex presentation will daunt general readers, her conclusion that the "normalization of deviance" builds error into all human systems is as compelling as it is pessimistic.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Scientific American
Vaughan gives us a rare view into the working level realities of NASA. . . . the cumulative force of her argument and evidence is compelling.
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The book ultimately discards the "amoral calculation" school of thought (which she was preconditioned to believe at the outset of her research by media coverage of the event) and explains how an ever expanding definition of acceptable performance (despite prior joint issues) led to the "normalization of deviance" which allowed the faulty decision to launch to be made. The sociological and cultural analyses are especially enlightening and far surpass the technical material about the actual physical cause of the accident presented.
This is a masterful book, and is impeccably documented. The reference portion of the book in the back is especially useful, in that she reproduces several key original documents pertinent to the investigation which are difficult to obtain elsewhere. My only objection to the book is the extreme use of repetition, which I think needlessly lengthened the book in several areas, and obfuscating sociological terminology like "paradigm obduracy" which not only fails to illuminate the non-sociologists among us, but makes for somewhat tortured prose.
In praise of the book, however, it is a brilliant analysis of how decisions are made in safety-critical programs in large institutions. Chapter ten, "Lessons Learned," is particularly noteworthy in its analysis and recommendations. It's a shame that managerial turnover has ensured that few of the "Challenger" era managers were still at the agency during the "Columbia" accident era. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
This book makes for very weighty and difficult reading. Having said that, I highly recommend it to technical professionals, particularly engineers and managers involved with high-risk technologies. Likewise, it is absolutely imperative reading for safety professionals, consultants, and analysts.
The actual cause of the disaster is clear in the first 20 of 500 pages - the booster O ring was safe at perhaps 60F while the booster had been only 8F some two hours before the launch, the ambient temperature was less important as the booster that failed was not in the direct sunlight.
The other 480 pages try to explain why rational people relied on "gut feel" when any non engineer could see that all the available evidence was that the seal would fail - this time or next time but eventually - and sooner rather than later.
Well researched and well converted into low level technical language for non engineers.
Worth reading when you want to be reassured that standing up for what you believe is right in large organisations is a worthy cause.
The only question not asked - would those who made the launch decision traded places with the crew.