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A Case Study of the Socialization Processes of the NASA Spacewalkers in the High Reliability Organizational Culture of the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Teams Open Access

The qualitative case study of the Spacewalkers, members of the NASA Extravehicular Activity (EVA) teams, provided an understanding of their socialization processes in the high reliability organizational culture of the EVA teams. The 20 NASA astronauts/Spacewalkers who participated in the study shared their perspectives of their excruciating, challenging, yet satisfying experiences as they became members of the Astronaut Corps and eventually of the EVA teams that prepared them for the spacewalk outside the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station, 250 miles from Earth, going 17,500 miles per hour. The findings of the study described the EVA teams as inherently safe, demonstrating the characteristics of high reliability organizations (HROs) that are consistent with the literature on high reliability organizations. The findings also demonstrated the participants experienced newcomer socialization through many levels of training, beginning with Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) to Spacewalkers. Their socialization occurred through formal processes, i.e., training, and informal processes, and through informal processes, including their relationships with trainers and mentors who taught them the norms and values, their own past experiences, and self-efficacy, as they adapted at each level to the organizational culture. The researcher recommended four implications for research from the study: (a) a multi-level study of the members of the teams that comprise the EVA teams and how they are prepared as trainers; (b) a qualitative case study of the socialization experiences of the operators of off-shore oil rig teams; (c) a follow-up study of the EVA teams to compare the findings from this study to future EVA teams; and, (d) research best practices of socialization processes in high reliability organizations to develop better training employees in HROs, focusing on building collaborative teams versus just team building. She also recommended three implications for practice for the socialization of newcomers into the high reliability organizational culture of the EVA teams: (a) the need to continue assessing formal socialization processes, also known as training, and their effectiveness in socializing newcomers; (b) the need for better identification and informal processes important to the socialization of newcomers in high reliability organizational cultures; and, (c) the need to pay close attention to what the participants have said in this study and their concerns for the future.

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