Twenty years after the Challenger

January 24, 2006
By

jacket imageA piece by John Noble Wilford in the New York Times is occasioned by the anniversaries of the destruction of the space shuttles Challenger (twenty years ago on January 28, 1986) and Columbia (three years ago on February 1, 2003) and the fire that killed three Apollo astronauts (thirty-nine years ago on January 27, 1967).
Ten years ago we published The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan which put forth the view—now widely accepted—that the Challenger accident was not the result of bad engineeering but of a management culture that normalized deviance: that flew missions even when presented with evidence of serious problems. The Columbia accident showed how difficult it is to change the patterns of organizational life.
Another author brought a different sensibility to the shuttle; you can read Howard Nemerov’s two poems on the space shuttle.

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