NASA’s Rejection of Reality Caused the Challenger Calamity and Suggests Organizational Psychosis



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


46th International Conference on Environmental Systems


The Challenger disaster was caused by an O-ring failure, which had been feared by engineers but discounted by management. NASA had denied technical reality to an amazing extent. Challenger has since been a widely taught paradigm of organizational failure, but it remains difficult to comprehend. Many theories describe ordinary organizations in terms of human behavior, structures, and politics. Other explanations consider dysfunctional behavior such as conflicts, self-interest, inadequate control, deceit, and manipulation. The usual theories explain organizational behavior as normal if not always ideal and as rational if not always ethical. Theories describing normal rational behavior cannot explain abnormal irrational conduct. How could a highly respected scientific and technical organization reject reality to the extent that a spectacular tragedy is inevitable? An unusual theory is needed. Abnormal and irrational conduct is the province of psychoanalytic theory, which has been used to consider the case of Challenger in detail. Psychoanalytic methodology and terminology are difficult and disputable, but a dictionary definition of psychosis is “a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.”


United States
ICES501: Life Support Systems Engineering and Analysis
Vienna, Austria
Harry W. Jones, NASA Ames Research Center,USA
The 46th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in Vienna, Austria, USA on 10 July 2016 through 14 July 2016.


Challenger, NASA, Organizational psychology, Organizational psychosis