Skip to main content

The Challenger Launch Decision

Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA, Enlarged Edition


With a New Preface
When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, millions of Americans became bound together in a single, historic moment. Many still vividly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the tragedy. Diane Vaughan recreates the steps leading up to that fateful decision, contradicting conventional interpretations to prove that what occurred at NASA was not skullduggery or misconduct but a disastrous mistake.

Why did NASA managers, who not only had all the information prior to the launch but also were warned against it, decide to proceed? In retelling how the decision unfolded through the eyes of the managers and the engineers, Vaughan uncovers an incremental descent into poor judgment, supported by a culture of high-risk technology. She reveals how and why NASA insiders, when repeatedly faced with evidence that something was wrong, normalized the deviance so that it became acceptable to them. In a new preface, Vaughan reveals the ramifications for this book and for her when a similar decision-making process brought down NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.

620 pages | 54 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1996, 2016

History: American History, History of Technology

Sociology: Collective Behavior, Mass Communication


“A landmark study."


Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Preface to the 2016 Edition

One     The Eve of the Launch
Two     Learning Culture, Revising History
Three   Risk, Work Group Culture, and the Normalization of Deviance
Four     The Normalization of Deviance, 1981–84
Five     The Normalization of Deviance, 1985
Six       The Culture of Production
Seven  Structural Secrecy
Eight   The Eve of the Launch Revisited
Nine    Conformity and Tragedy
Ten      Lessons Learned

Appendix A   Cost/Safety Trade-Offs? Scrapping the Escape Rockets and the SRB Contract Award Decision
Appendix B   Supporting Charts and Documents
Appendix C   On Theory Elaboration, Organizations, and Historical Ethnography

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press