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Inside NASA

, 232 pages
September 1994



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Inside NASA

High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program

Winner of the Henry Adams Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government

Inside NASA explores how an agency praised for its planetary probes and expeditions to the moon became notorious for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and a series of other malfunctions. Using archival evidence as well as in-depth interviews with space agency officials, Howard McCurdy investigates the relationship between the performance of the American space program and NASA's organizational culture. He begins by identifying the beliefs, norms, and practices that guided NASA's early successes. Originally, the agency was dominated by the strong technical culture rooted in the research-and-development organizations from which NASA was formed. To launch the expeditions to the moon, McCurdy explains, this technical culture was linked to an organizational structure borrowed from the Air Force ballistic-missile program. Changes imposed to accomplish the lunar landing—along with the normal aging process and increased bureaucracy in the government as a whole—gradually eroded NASA's original culture and reduced its technical strength.

Howard E. McCurdy is professor of public affairs at the American University. He is the author of The Space Station Decision: Incremental Politics and Technical Choice, also available from Johns Hopkins.

"McCurdy is surely on the right track. His valuable book makes the literature on organizational cultures accessible and reveals new ways to look at high-technology agencies."