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Space Shuttle Challenger disaster took place on January 28, 1986 as the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up into pieces just 73 seconds after its launch. The destruction blew the shuttle into flames and dust causing the death of all seven crew members. Even though the crash was a sad moment in the history of NASA and United States Space programs, it is still being studied merely to figure out what went wrong. Aboard the space shuttle was Christa McAuliffe, who was supposed to telecast live and teach in classrooms globally. Her loss and the loss of the other crew members left NASA dismantled. (Forest, 1996 p1).
Most of the blame is placed on flawed decision making and the fact that mismanagement led to the decision of launching the shuttle.. As soon as the shuttle launched, the hardware solid rocket booster (SRB) "O" ring failed and thus led to the explosion. Surely, there were other factors involved but the idea of human mismanagement leading to loss of human lives put NASA back several years. There was a sense of mistrust by the public and surely of the amateur astronauts who were making their way in to NASA. A thorough look at the decision making process and its implementation will be discussed later.
When one thinks of what exactly led to the crash, there comes the prospect of both environmental and human causes. It can be stated that the Space Shuttle Challenger was made without a solid need or an application this led to reduced support both financially and from the government as well. (Forest, 1996 p2) Many different uses of the shuttle were put forward such as increasing national security, or enhancing the scientific knowledge of the American Space Program. Since Challenger comprised of members from different nationalities and races, the shuttle would then go on to strengthen the ties between different countries.
The production and engineering of the shuttle were merely done to satisfy the political, economical and organizational factors working against the making of the shuttle. Thus, where on one hand missions were designed with solid goals, this shuttle was made very rebelliously. This is an understood phenomenon. Even when a child takes up a project or a task that others are forcing him to not take up, there is an immense amount of pressure on him to do make that certain project succeed. In doing so, his first priority is to prove the others wrong rather than successfully completing his project. A major factor adding onto the uncertainty was the immense amount of political stress placed on the Shuttle management team. The increased pressure became an obstacle for the people to perform effectively and thus later go on to affect their decision making skills as well. The Reagan administration stated that the shuttle was functional even before it had been developed completely. Oddly enough, Reagan administration and the political environment became pro-NASA and supportive of the shuttle after the disaster happened. (Byrnes, 1994 p 130)
Decision making is not an easy process as it consists of loads of logic and step-by-step thinking. When companies have their problems, a certain decision can make or break their progress. The simplest plan of making a decision is to first figure out an issue, see what caused it, now look up possible resolutions and then go whichever one is the most feasible. (Mintzberg and Westley, 2001 p 89). Decisions that have a long frame are easier to make because one is not placed in a haphazard situation. Even the aforementioned plan was for the most simple and non-time limited situations, the people behind the decision of the launch should have put it into the working. Many a times one is placed in a situation where the decision making has to be completed all of a sudden as opposed to a transition into the final step. An example was given by Mintzberg and Westley of a company who is wishing to make a new plant. The real decision of making a new plant has been suspended mainly due to new problems and new events. Then all of a sudden, it's a 'do or die' situation, where a fast decision has to be taken whether to make a plant or not.
The simplicity of the decision making process had been highlighted earlier. However, when it comes to crucial decisions one really has trust his or her instincts. That can be explained how business CEOs have that business instinct maybe from experience or from their position on what deal to sign and what not to sign. The human mind takes in and analyzes information that one is not even aware of at all times. (Hayashi, 2001 p6) Larsen has stated that throughout his years as a chief decision maker, trusting your instincts is a very important thing. Whenever one goes on to ignore his or her instincts, bad decisions take place. (Hayashi, 2001 p 7) This is explanatory by the uncertainty caused by environmental factors prior to the launch of the shuttle. Even before the shuttle was launched, the internal environment within NASA wasn't a positive one. The employees and staff were reluctant mainly due to the shuttle being declared complete even though it wasn't. Thus a major step is decision making, trusting your instincts, was overlooked.
There has long been a debate on whether one should trust their gut or not. It has been stated that feelings and emotions are not significant in affecting our judgment but they may actually be necessary. (Hayashi, 2001 p 7) Many a times CEOs or chief decision makers will make a decision against their gut. Leaders are evaluated only on the basis on being able to make the decision at the correct moment. (Butler, Bezant-Niblett, & Caine, 2011 p 241) Internally, they know that decision might not give a positive outcome. Subsequently, they work hardly to ensure that the decision gives positive results and nothing goes wrong. (Hayashi, 2001 p 10) NASA possibly had the gut instinct that they shouldn't have had the space shuttle challenger in the first place, but then kept working and progressing towards something they didn't have a good feeling about in the beginning.
There was present a group support system between NASA and Thiokol, which are the makers of the SRB "O" rings. The interactions between the two groups were crucial since the decision they both took would influence whether Challenger would launch or not. A night before the launch of the shuttle, Thiokol was worried and aware of the fact that rings wouldn't work well in the cold temperature. (Mahler and Casamayou, 2009 p. 40). NASA asked for a final advice on whether Challenger was to launch or not and they were told not to by Thiokol. To this response, the managers at NASA responded with anger and stress such that Thiokol representatives came in under pressure. Another recommendation was made shortly, which stated that the shuttle were good to go.
When negotiations take place between two learned people, rationality is the main basis on which they are defined as right or wrong. Nonetheless, those who are negotiating the decisions often go to inappropriate ideas of what is right or wrong. The sole basis of rationality or in the case of the NASA explosion would be safety considerations are over looked. (Bazerman and Tsay, 2001 p 4) Many a times in decision making where one party tries to dominate over the other, the dominant party overlooks the important details being given to them. Regardless of what the person on the opposite side is saying, their input is constantly devalued to such an extent that they eventually give in. (Bazerman and Tsay, 2001 p5) This sort of decision making can be explained on the bias of behavior in which one party will always try to make their wish or their argument win in the debate regardless of what the outcome will be. The argument between NASA and Thiokol, the makers responsible for the production of the O. rings is a good example of this. In this, NASA had hired the Thiokol group of engineers. Thus, NASA was kept the dominant party and Thiokol's assertions or arguments had to be in favor NASA.
This is highlighted in the fact that when two parties negotiate, each of them think that they are biased.(Bazerman and Tsay, 2001 p5) In the case of NASA and Thiokol, NASA appeared like the biased one because it wanted to launch. Thiokol, on the other hand, changed their decision possibly under the dominance of NASA. Along with being biased in negotiations, many times the dominant party also thinks of themselves as being the right one as well. Completely ignoring the realistic outcomes, the party focuses on the positive and optimistic results. (Bazerman and Tsay, 2001 p8) during the hasten decision making on the eve of the launch; NASA probably didn't think that this would lead to a crash. A good thing to always do prior to making a decision…[continue]
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