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Challenger Analysis Project. Andrea Hansen BS 311. Introduction of Crew51. (Clockwise starting in left back row) Ellison S. Onizuka , Mission Specialist Sharon Christa Mc Auliffe , Teacher Greg Jarvis, Payload Specialist Judy Resnick , Mission Specialist

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challenger analysis project

Challenger Analysis Project

Andrea Hansen

BS 311

introduction of crew51
Introduction of Crew51

(Clockwise starting in left back row)

  • Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist
  • Sharon Christa Mc Auliffe, Teacher
  • Greg Jarvis, Payload Specialist
  • Judy Resnick, Mission Specialist
  • Ron McNair, Mission Specialist
  • Dick Scobee, Commander
  • Mike Smith, Pilot
  • My purpose is to analyze the communication and organizational behavior components that played a significant role in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy.
      • Image of the Challenger

Space Shuttle crash of 1986.

questions that will be answered
Questions that will be answered…
  • Where did the communication breakdowns occur in this tragedy?
  • What could have been done to have prevented these communication breakdowns and the ultimate explosion?
  • How did formal roles and reliance on the chain of command influence the events?
  • Are the communication problems that led up to the launch decisions inevitable in complex, hierarchical organizations?
  • What role did structural design play in this event?
  • Where did the communication breakdowns occur in this tragedy?
    • NASA was unaware of recommendations by MTI (Morton Thiokol International) advising against the launch.
      • Temperatures below 53 degrees were deemed unsafe (NASA, 1986).
  • Constant opposing views on safety by MTI engineers and upper management further contributed to the breakdowns in communication.
    • They disagreed over the seriousness of the O-ring problem
    • They failed to use the same communication style for better understanding.
      • (Winsor, 1988).
  • Winsor states, “Communication is not just shared information; it is shared interpretation” (p. 101, 1988).
    • Implies that information was received, but there was a failure by NASA to properly interpret its severity.
    • The O-ring failure should not have been as unexpected as it was.
  • Management at Marshall appeared to have the tendency to withhold important information rather than bringing it forward (NASA, 1986).
    • Portrayed Marshall as a part of the system not interfacing or communicating with the other parts to produce successful flight missions
  • What could have been done to have prevented these communication breakdowns and the ultimate explosion?
    • There could have been more coordination between MTI, Marshall and NASA.
      • Integration would have ensured that the overall goals of each organization were achieved (Anthony, Gales, & Hodge, 2003).
      • Major goal: To have a safe, successful flight mission
  • The engineers and managers of MTI could have developed a communication style that Marshall and NASA would have been able to interpret and understand.
organizational behavior
Organizational Behavior
  • How did formal roles and reliance on the chain of command influence the events?
    • Three main organizations put pressure on NASA to launch the Challenger as quickly as possible.
      • Military
      • Congress
      • Media
        • (Neuner & Rider, n.d.)
  • Without the pressure from these organizations, the Challenger wouldn’t have been rushed to launch.
    • May have prevented overlooking technical problems with the shuttle
organizational behavior9
Organizational Behavior
  • Morton Thiokol International (MTI)
    • Contractor responsible for solid rocket boosters
      • (Winsor, p. 101).
  • Between MTI engineers, management in NASA, and Marshall Space Center, news moved slowly.
    • “News moved slowly among the organizations because they were in a hierarchical relationship, with MTI dependent on Marshall for the contract and Marshall dependent on NASA for funds and career opportunities” (Winsor, p. 101).
organizational behavior10
Organizational Behavior
  • Are the communication problems that led up to the launch decisions inevitable in complex, hierarchical organizations?
    • Miscommunication is inevitable to some extent when dealing with different corporate roles, agendas and personalities.
    • Because there are so many levels, communication is especially vital.
    • Unfortunately, in this situation, it was a matter of life and death.
organizational behavior11
Organizational Behavior
  • Differences in corporate roles lead to greater difficulty in communicating (Winsor, p. 101).
    • Concerns and values often differ
    • Levels of experience are broad
  • Lower-level employees are more likely to pass bad news upward than middle- high level management. Why?
    • In this situation, politics were involved at the higher level.
    • Pressure to succeed grows stronger as you go up the hierarchical ladder.
organizational behavior12
Organizational Behavior
  • What role did structural design play in this event?
    • The structural design of NASA was lacking..
      • Adequate planning and control systems
      • Adequate procedures and policies for safe practices
      • Structure for centralized decision-making
        • Decisions were being made at all levels of employment
        • The military, Congress, and the media swayed the decision to launch, thus straying further away from centralized decision-making
  • With as big of an organization as NASA, decision-making should be centralized.
  • Failure to communicate effectively allowed warnings to be dismissed on the part of MTI, Marshall and NASA.
  • Communication breakdowns resulted from opposing perspectives and mismatched communication styles.
  • Hierarchical pressure was evident and the decision to launch was influenced by this pressure.
  • Structural design impacted the ability to effectively communicate.
  • It seems that MTI and Marshall both did not want to acknowledge safety standards were not all up to par because of hierarchical pressure to launch on time.
  • “Even when MTI engineers came to believe that a problem existed, they had a difficult time convincing management” of the severity, as well as Marshall, which both shared the same opposing perspective (Winsor, p. 106).
  • Although the Challenger crash was the result of various technical problems, the ultimate cause of the crash was the communication breakdown.
  • Anthony, W. P., Gales, L. M., & Hodge, B. J. (2003). Organization Theory: A Strategic Approach (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • NASA. (1986, February 3). Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from:

  • Neuner, K., & Rider, J. (n.d.). The Challenger Disaster. Retrieved on August 24, 2010, from:

  • Winsor, D. A. (1988). Communication Failures in the Challenger Accident. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication,vol. 31, no. 3. 101-107. doi: 0361-1434.1988.0900.0101. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from:

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