We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

Apollo, Challenger, Columbia: The Decline of the Space Program

A Study in Organizational Communication

Phillip K. Tompkins
With the Assistance of Emily V. Tompkins

Publication Date - July 2004

ISBN: 9780195330441

288 pages
6 x 9 inches

In Stock

In examining NASA over its 45-year history from 1958 to 2003, this book provides unparalleled longitudinal insight into the successes and failures of the organization.


Apollo, Challenger, Columbia: The Decline of the Space Program provides unparalleled longitudinal insight into the organizational successes and failures of NASA. The book treats NASA over its 45-year history from 1958 to 2003, concentrating on five "data points":

* 1967: when Tompkins first served as a Summer Faculty Consultant in Organizational Communication to legendary rocket scientist Wernher von Braun during the Apollo Program.
* 1968: when he served in the same capacity to help reorganize NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
* 1986: when he investigated the communication failures that caused the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
* 1987: when he researched NASA's highly successful Aviation Safety Reporting System.
* 2003: when he interpreted the communication failures leading up to the catastrophic failure of the space shuttle Columbia.
The result is a presentation of concrete communication correlates of organizational success and failure. Tompkins is a master of what Clifford Geertz called "thick description." The result is a compelling, richly detailed, longitudinal case study concentrating on processual changes in communication-as-organization. In this book, Tompkins introduces theory subtly, inserting it to explain details of the organization that would otherwise defy understanding.

In considering other organizations in trouble, Tompkins identifies ten "communication transgressions," one of which, for example, is "ignorantia affectata"--an affected or cultivated ignorance of organizational problems. In contrast to these failed organizations and their pathologies, Tompkins offers a sketch of two healthy organizations that live by "value logics"--applying ethical values in the organizational workplace. There are lessons to be learned from NASA's disasters. With all of the high-profile ethical lapses in U.S. corporations, Tompkins advocates individuals and organizations taking responsibility for their actions.


"This book deviates from traditional organization communication texts because it is a detailed case study of one particular organization (yet is tied to other organizations). Tompkins helps to show how communication theory concepts have real-world significance.... [He does] a great job of introducing key communication concepts and applying them to the history of the space program. I love the author's writing style--it is a captivating story and provides strong academic insight. I think students will love this book...."--John Oetzel, University of New Mexico

"While the unfolding of the sequence of events nicely frames the book, Tompkins brings in relevant theories and concepts that provide the needed foundations for understanding practice. The book provides many teaching moments about organizational communication, including such topics as culture, decision-making, identification, leadership, change, structure, and ethics. Few books in our field do this good a job of telling a compelling story while also providing valuable theoretical insight."--Greg Larson, University of Montana

Table of Contents

    Chapter One:
    The Columbia Accident
    Chapter Two:
    The Week Following: Debris, Data, and Fault Trees
    Chapter Three:
    Culture and Communication in NASA
    Chapter Four:
    Communication and Culture in the Marshall Space Flight Center
    Chapter Five:
    The Challenger Accident
    Chapter Six:
    The Mysteries of Columbia Continue
    Chapter Seven:
    Reading the CAIB Report: Echoes of Challenger
    Chapter Eight:
    The Challenger-Columbia Syndrome and the Decline of American Organizations and Institutions: 'Speaking Truth to Power'
    Chapter Nine:
    Wrapping It Up

Related Titles