sealPurdue News

February 7, 2003

Purdue professor can talk about NASA management issues

A professor at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management says the discussion of the Columbia shuttle disaster will shift from technical issues to management decisions – past and future.

"There are several million parts in the space shuttle, and it's a testament to the technical and managerial skills at NASA and its contractors that it works at all," says Dan E. Schendel, professor of strategic management. "I have great respect for NASA's work, but once we get past the mourning, we're going to have to look at the technology and ask, 'What went wrong and can we fix it?'"

Schendel has an engineering background, has served in the U.S. Air Force, is the co-author of a book on corporate whistle-blowing and founder and current editor of the Strategic Management Journal. He says the public has grown accustomed to safe space travel and does not have a realistic view of the risks involved.

"There's risk in any enterprise – from the simplest to the most complex – and in management you make choices based upon the best information you have to minimize risk and maximize gain," he says. "I'm not interested in Monday morning quarterbacking, but these aren't new issues, and we need to look at this from both the management and technical sides.

"Management is about choices. So, for example, if your organization has a 40 percent budget cut, as I understand NASA has experienced, management has to ask how do you choose what you do and what don't you do."

There have been critics of the shuttle's safety, and an important aspect of the prior shuttle disaster, the Challenger, was the technical advice NASA did or did not take, Schendel says.

"Whistle-blowers were controversial then, and I expect they will be in the current Columbia tragedy. But one of the marks of a good manager is to make certain the minority view is heard and considered."

CONTACT: Schendel, (765) 494-4386,