The Columbia space shuttle disintegrated on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere in February of 2003. The astronauts on board had completed a two week mission and were returning home. The program was halted for the next couple of years while the disaster was investigated. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board reported on what if found to be the cause of the tragedy. After take-off a piece of insulation foam fell off and hit the external fuel tank and left wing. The damage to the wing's thermal protection was unknown. On re-entry the heat caused the aluminum airframe structure to melt, causing the explosion. The report listed other factors contributing to this accident including organizational problems. How NASA presented technical information in its briefings was found to be ineffective even damaging.
For a shuttle mission to succeed it depends on a team of planners, engineers and support staff. Planning and rehearsing every detail of the schedule is a must. Risk is assessed for every possible problem and backup plans created. NASA's space centers organize, monitor and control each mission with military precision. But reduction of personnel and internal pressure to launch on time caused safety issues to be neglected.
Absence of Success
A video clip and report was sent to Boeing engineers when the foam tile strike occurred during the launch. Boeing requested a satellite image of the wing, but never received it. Without pictures, they created a computer modeling tool, 'Crater', to predict how the damage would affect Columbia during re-entry. In January, the team presented its findings. Had NASA taken the view that the damaged left wing threatened re-entry, it could' have used either of two fallback plans to sa...
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...se concerns are addressed.
NASA allowed itself to evolve into an organization with inconsistent authority and responsibility in its safety structure, exhibiting differences between and even within its centers. Over time NASA left the responsibility for safety to contractors and was unaware of critical details. The safety structure is vital, especially in organizations like NASA. Safety managers must have authority and voice in decision making. Issues regarding safety should be brought to management without fear. Unexpected events occur and solutions come from line workers, not senior management. (Disaster, 2008)
Stillman, R.J., (2010), Public Administration Concepts and Cases, Boston, Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
The Columbia Disaster - Death By PowerPoint (2008), BBC, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A39477090
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