In this book sociologist Dr. Howard E. McCurdy, presents the organizational culture of the NASA in its golden age in the 1970’s and compares it to the bloated, inefficient and directionless state of the agency today.
Dr. McCurdy, a professor in the department of Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., is an expert on NASA and has published a number of books relating to the history of Space exploration (SPA, American University). Inside NASA is a mainly a presentation of theories in general organizational culture where the case of NASA is used as an example rather than a simple history of the agency. McCurdy has tried to explain why NASA has not has not ever had a triumph rivaling the triumph of the moon landings.
According to McCurdy, NASA in its heyday was an organization full of enthusiastic visionaries. The employees and the management were both imbued with a sense of purpose and a clear vision of their goals. The Agency functioned like an efficient engineering organization; with its objectives, time limits and budgetary constraints clearly defined and the focus of administrators on ensuring that all the details of the product design were met. Like any government agency NASA needs direction from the upper levels of the government in order to function properly. On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy called for a mission to land humans on the moon which was the start of an era of progress for the agency (McCurdy).
NASA’s decline started with the Nixon administration. For the Nixon administration scientific research or space exploration were not priorities, they rejected each of NASA’s Space Task Groups proposals for further space exploration. Left rudderless, the NASA administrators, in an effort to maintain their funding began lobbying various political interest groups, trying to find common ground with them by bundling up proposals for additional program with the objectives of the special interest groups. Technological achievement, space exploration and engineering management took a backseat to the formation of political coalitions in support of various programs in the administrator’s priorities. These political coalitions included the military-industrial complex, astronomers, groups of civilian space enthusiasts and politicians who could expect job creation in their districts due to the NASA programs (McCurdy).
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