A devastating blow was dealt to the Nasa programme by the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, followed by the operational failure of the Hubble telescope a few years later.
Initially Nasa blamed the technical failure of a rubber O-ring at low temperatures for the death of the seven Challenger astronauts.
Hubble problems were also attributed to technical faults. Nasa refused to acknowledge human and organisational failings because of the atmosphere of secrecy and consensus which surrounded the space agency.
Change was avoided until Admiral Daniel Goldin took over as chief executive in 1992 and returned Nasa to its roots, with a ‘faster, better, cheaper’ strategy.
With a fresh approach to management and tighter, more critical administration, Nasa recently recorded the successful Pathfinder mission to Mars.