The Echoes of the Mind (152-2) Columbia Space Shuttle

 Columbia Space Shuttle

On 16 January 2003, the US space shuttle Columbia launched after 18 delays over the previous week. 82 seconds after launch, a suitcase-sized piece of protective foam broke off and struck the left wing of the shuttle, damaging it.

Though engineers expressed concern, management groupthink discounted the prospect of danger. The flight director, Steve Stitch, emailed the Columbia crew:

Some debris came loose and subsequently impacted the orbiter left wing, creating a shower of smaller particles. We have seen this same phenomenon on several other flights and there is absolutely no concern for entry.

On 1 February 2003, during entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the Columbia explosively disintegrated, instantly cremating its 7 passengers. Groupthink lit the match.

NASA insiders, confronted with danger signals, proceeded as if nothing was wrong when they were repeatedly faced with the evidence that something was very wrong. They in effect normalized their own behavior, so that their actions became acceptable to them, representing nothing out of the ordinary. This is an example of organizational ritualism. ~ Margaret Anderson & Howard Taylor