Friday, October 07, 2005

NASA website Analysis: Pleasantly Surprised

History of the Challenger Disaster and Investigation:

The Challenger, in retrospect was a tragedy that very well could have been prevented. I wasn’t sure what to expect from NASA’s website or description of the event when human life and blame is at stake. However I was relived to see that, like President Reagan announced in his Address that night, “We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public.” And for the most part, that’s what this website proved. From the technological explanation for the explosion to the list of outside sources, authors and links to outside reports on the investigation it’s refreshing to see that NASA doesn’t seem to be hiding, especially with the information and summary of Trudy E. Bell’s and Karl Esch’s "The Fatal Flaw in Flight 51-L”. I was also interested in the fact that after reading Tompkins’ book “ Apollo, Challenger, Columbia: The Decline of the Space Program” and chapter two (pg 44)’s remark that astronauts are similar to the explorers and pioneers of the world, President Reagan also compared the brave astronauts to pioneers.

“We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, "He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it." Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.”

History of the Columbia Disaster and Investigation:

I was intrigued with the summary CAIB summarization regarding two organizational reasons the commission found to be the cause of the fatal accident: 1) Pressure to stay on time for launch without having sufficient resources to do so and 2) NASA’s safety level falls short of what is necessary for the shuttle program. One of the first pages I looked at when I started exploring the website what their commitment to safety at the Marshall Center. Now obviously, the website has updated since the report has come out but the commitment to safety throughout the website is interesting to see and the need for NASA to point out what they are doing to ensure safety or at least improve it is apparent. The Marshall Center alone now has five different departments that work together (prime example of systems theory) to promote and improve safety while specializing in one specific area. Hopefully the communication involved between them all and the rest of the organization is also improved otherwise, they may be one more level that gets ignored, or silenced when they are the bearers of bad news.

Organizational Climate and Culture of NASA

What an interesting idea with the 20 Steps for a successful First Day! To see what an organization expects out of their employees and to take the time I’m not sure how much actual time but time none the less) to share with the new employees what they can expect out of their new employer is a very interesting idea! I loved that the list shows not just that the employee will receive a security badge, but they will also receive welcome emails from their colleagues and be invited to participate in meetings immediately. This shows the new employees coming in that they are really a part of the organization and not just a person at a desk pushing papers. I thought this was a great touch and a great way for new employees and the employer to lay out their expectations and set up for success before the first day.