Case | HBS Case Collection | March 2005 (Revised May 2009)

Columbia's Final Mission

by Richard M.J. Bohmer, Amy C. Edmondson, Michael Roberto, Laura Feldman and Erika Ferlins


On February 1, 2003, the Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, and the seven astronauts onboard lost their lives. Explores Columbia's final mission from the perspective of six key managers and engineers associated with NASA's Space Shuttle Program. An introductory video and interactive timeline present background information. An application replicates the desktop environment of six real-life managers and engineers involved in decision making during the period prior to Columbia's re-entry. Each student is preassigned a particular role and, through a password system, enters the role-play application. Students review the protagonists' actual e-mails, listen to audio re-enactments of crucial meetings, and review space agency documents. Students must be prepared to play the role of the protagonist in a classroom re-enactment of a critical Mission Management Team meeting that took place on Flight Day 8 (January 24, 2003). Students examine the organizational causes of the tragedy rather than focus on the technical cause.

Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Leadership; Crisis Management; Management Teams; Organizational Culture; Aerospace Industry;


Bohmer, Richard M.J., Amy C. Edmondson, Michael Roberto, Laura Feldman, and Erika Ferlins. "Columbia's Final Mission." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Case 305-032, March 2005. (Revised May 2009.)