Leadership in Practice: the Columbia Accident

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LEADERSHIP IN PRACTICE

MPA 5002

Introduction:
For this paper, I have chosen to analyze the leadership performance of Linda Ham, Chair of Mission Management Team, and Daniel S. Goldin, NASA Administrator, 1992–2001. Both, in my estimation, were part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Both succumbed to outside political forces and placed much more emphasis on meeting self-imposed deadlines than astronaut safety. Both gradually dismissed the vast majority of the recommendations of the Rogers Commission after the loss of the Challenger and doomed NASA to repeat history. Background of leader #1:

Linda Ham, Chair of the Mission Management team for the last Columbia mission, was hired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) soon after she graduated college. She began her career with NASA as a Propulsion Systems Monitor at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Over the years she rose through the ranks of NASA to Chair the Mission Management team for STS-107, which was the failed mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia that broke up upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Background of leader #2:

Daniel S. Goldin, NASA Administrator, 1992–2001, was hired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) soon after he graduated college. He began his career at NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio working in electric propulsion systems for human interplanetary travel. He left NASA a few years later and began working for the TRW Space and Technology Group. Over his 25 year career at TRW, Goldin rose through the ranks to become the Vice President and General Manager of TRW. Goldin then returned to NASA and became its longest tenured Administrator. Goldin was known for being able to cut costs and still provide many space programs. His “crusade for efficiency” (2004) ended up being the most visible flaw in an administration philosophy that lost another seven astronauts. Another glimpse into what kind of man and leader Daniel S. Goldin is, can be found in a lawsuit by the Department of Justice that “that seeks more than $170 million from TRW Inc., which is accused of padding government space contracts with research-and-development costs ‘that should have been paid out of TRW's profits.’ The lawsuit contends that Daniel S. Goldin, who ran the company's Space & Technology Group during the early 1990s, participated in the alleged overcharges by authorizing suspect accounting practices.” (1998) Leadership styles:

Both Goldin and Ham clearly pushed the NASA agenda which was set by Goldin. Both appear to fit into the autocratic leadership style in that they demanded absolute obedience. Neither fostered a culture where diverse opinion was welcome. Both created an atmosphere where diverse or dissenting opinion was ignored and unwelcome. Goldin and Ham forced many NASA employees, specifically engineers and safety personnel, to become “organizational bystanders” (2008) because they were unwilling to risk their career to challenge the agenda of Goldin and Ham. NASA became a workplace with administrative blinders on. “NASA is not functioning as a learning organization” (Gehman, 2003). “[NASA mission managers] were convinced, without study, that nothing could be done about such an emergency. The intellectual curiosity and skepticism that a solid safety culture requires was almost entirely absent. Shuttle managers did not embrace safety-conscious attitudes. Instead, their attitudes were shaped and reinforced by an organization that, in this instance, was incapable of stepping back and gauging its biases. Bureaucracy and process trumped thoroughness and reason” (Gehman, 2003). Ham’s influence on STS-107 is most clearly described in this excerpt from the Case Study on the Columbia Accident by Maureen Hogan Casamayou, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia:

Ham did inquire about the foam strike, but: not to determine what action...
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