NASA Roles and Organizational Structure

What factors in NASA’s culture contributed to the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters? The failure in the decision-making process (one dominant decision with ignoring to others) since there were voices speaking against the launch because of worries about the O-ring problem. However, there were pressures to launch and a certainty of its success. They worked as they would never fail since the success of a mission should take precedence over cost and deadlines, which is incorrect in the space program because in an environment like this the risky nature of the operations must be acknowledged and take into consideration.

They consider that their mission success is more important than the role of any individual or group because of that they even didn’t care about the crew and think what if they die.

Their past success led them to ignore every other factor that could affect the launch process. Using Schein’s ‘onion model’ of culture, is it possible to show how basic assumptions are linked to beliefs and values and then to potentially fateful behaviors? By looking at the Artifacts as described in Schein’s ‘onion model’ of culture, we can say that: the communication patterns as formal ones, the decision-making process is hierarchical, the open communication during meetings is missing, the use of various technologies correlates with the cost and deadline, and the work in some sectors is dominant to other ones.

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Moving to the Espoused Values – second level of Schein’s model- to understand the cultural meaning of observable artifacts, we can define that: NASA values are reflected from its members’ individuals’ values that show a high level of selfishness and ego, where we can find that everyone only thinks about success, costs, deadlines, and clings to his opinion and trusts his decisions only without looking at others’ opinions or caring about the safety of the crew.

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This meaning totally agrees with what we observed by looking at Artifacts. The third level of Schein’s culture model is Basic Assumptions and if we look at cultural assumptions that should characterize a successful space program, we can say that these assumptions led to beliefs and behaviors, which make two big disasters in NASA mainly, based on the same reasons.

Cultural change was obviously difficult at NASA. Can you think of specific things that could have been done to make cultural changes more lasting or more effective? Organization should be more social than hierarchical by Improve group discussion and encourage open communication to hear every opinion and think about its validity during the situation. They should concentrate on the risks that accompany every operation and do not restrict it by the deadline or cost. If the risks are high, they should be prepared for an appropriate alternative based on a planned way to avoid the risks with minimum costs and closest time.

Instead of focus on one part more than another ‘Either operation dominates to the detriment of research and development, or employees working on new projects neglect operations’ Trying to have more specialized employees where every team is responsible for a specific part of the process( e.g. research and development team, operation team, …). Taking the failure in previous processes as lessons to benefit from them, and learning from the mistakes that we faced, and not only looking at the successful processes to reliance on them and think about the ultimate success. Pay more attention to individuals and groups above everything. Are there particular aspects of NASA that might make cultural change particularly challenging? NASA is a huge international institution therefor the cultural change will be a great challenge for it.

The most important reason that makes cultural change will be a great challenge for NASA is the nature of the operations done by it because it cost a lot and it has to be completed under certain circumstances this is why they consider the mission success is more important than the role of any individual or group. Also because of this complex process, they have to keep the decision-making process more hierarchical and limited to a specific group since they can let such a big decision open for everyone where might be found, under-qualified employees. In the end, we can say that NASA can make a cultural change if they want that but in a long-term plan and gradually involving the new aspects in the work environment.Are bureaucracies particularly susceptible to these difficulties of cultural change?

Bureaucracies are predictable and accountable, and their environments lay on policies and procedures based on the rule that said: “we’ve always done it that way.’ these traits make them change-resistant. This routine and stability in the bureaucracies are why we can consider it particularly susceptible to difficulties of cultural change. How does the concept of a ‘high reliability culture’ contribute to the challenges facing NASA throughout the years? If NASA wants to boost high safety levels, improve the communication between its employees, prioritize the role of individual, and group above all. It must adopt a ‘culture of reliability’ in which underlying assumptions of the work lead to error-free behaviors including a strong value for skilled performance, an insistence on a high degree of discretion and an appreciation for the tension between system experts and system operators.

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NASA Roles and Organizational Structure. (2020, Apr 29). Retrieved from

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