Term Paper: What NASA Can Teach

Pages: 4 (1479 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Terrorism

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[. . .] 10). Yet, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had "considered the danger of hijacked aircraft being guided to American targets, but only aircraft that were coming from overseas" ("National Commission, 2004, p.10). From a critical thinking perspective, the Department of Defense and NORAD, specifically, had not adequately recognized the unstated assumptions that were foundational to their strategy: the military believed that an attack using hijacked commercial aircraft would not have a domestic origin.

Patterns of Influence

Across the federal agencies, there existed an immediate need to reconstruct patterns of belief based on the wider experience to be derived from nearly a decade of accumulating, emboldened terrorist activities. A tenet of critical thinking is that the use of logic impels making sense of something as a whole with conclusions following from evidence (Paul & Elder, 1995, 2001). Logic alone is not a sure path to accurate perceptions based on critical reasoning. Substantive or crucial gaps in communication can sidetrack logical reasoning, thereby depriving support to critical thinking. Such was the case on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger blew apart (Chow, 2011). The Rogers Commission meticulously documented the physical and organizational causes of the catastrophe, citing issues in NASA's decision-making processes and known construction flaws in O-rings (Chow, 2011). Engineers understood, documented, and communicated upward the problems with the O-rings in low temperatures; they pressed for a delayed launch until a warmer day (Chow, 2011). The facts about the O-rings were apparently submitted in disparate reports, a situation that hindered "making sense of something as a whole with conclusions following from evidence" (Paul & Elder, 1995, 2001). Critical thinking was again put to the test on February 1, 2003, the day of the Columbia space shuttle disaster. In their investigation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) cited these problems: "organizational barriers that prevented effective communication of critical safety information" and "cultural traits and organizational practices detrimental to safety were allowed to develop" (Howell, 2013). A parallel can be observed between the reluctance of NASA to delay a launch that was viewed as a critical demonstration of the agency's progress -- and deserved funding -- and that of the "policymakers [who] expressed frustration with the range of options presented" regarding the strike operations and associated risks of collateral damage and making the U.S. appear weak ((Chow, 2011; "National Commission," 2004). The point of including the NASA disasters in this discussion is to increase the saliency of the challenge posed by multiple and competing objectives which are highly influential factors in the capacity of a federal agency to engage in critical thinking. Indeed, it is as though a marker in the DNA of bureaucracies discourages full utilization of critical thinking.


The thread of certainty and singleness of purpose is evident in the work of the stakeholder agencies addressing the pre-9/11 international situation. However, for every other element of critical thinking (question, information, assumption, interpretation, concepts, implications, point-of-view), the missing quality in their deliberation was divergence. One can imagine a dynamic critical thinking conceptual framework that illustrates the power of iterative divergence and convergence. Divergence permits the imagination to open and clear the reasoning lens, while convergence utilizes the universal intellectual standards as qualifiers that serve to test the divergent thinking. A quote from Albert Einstein, a consummate master of critical reasoning is apt: "Imagination is more important than knowledge" ("Brainy Quotes," 2014).


Albert Einstein. Brainy Quotes. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/albert_einstein.html

Chow, D. (2011, January 25). Space Shuttle Challenger disaster FAQ: What went wrong? www.SPACE.com. Retrieved from http://www.space.com/10677-challenger-tragedy-overview.html

Eichorn, R. (2012). Developing thinking skills: Critical thinking at the Army Management Staff College. Fort Belvoir, VA: Strategic Systems Department. [Webpage, last modified: 4 2012 January.] Retreived from http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/army/critical/roy.htm

Glaser, E.M. (1941). An experiment in the development of critical thinking. New York, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Howell, E. (2103, February 1). Columbia disaster: What happened, what NASA learned. SPACE.com. Retrieved from http://www.space.com/19436-columbia-disaster.html

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2001). Miniature guide to critical thinking: concepts & tools. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (1995). The center for critical thinking. Retreived from http://www.sonoma.edu/cthinkingg and http://www.criticalthinking.org/

The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. [Executive Summary]. (2004, July 22). Retrieved from http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf [END OF PREVIEW]

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