NEW NASA SAFETY ORGANIZATION REPORTS ON INITIAL
The NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) reported on the
results of its initial assessments to senior NASA officials today.
The Center was created after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident to
serve as a source of technical expertise for evaluating the merits
of technical concerns identified by NASA managers and employees.
These assessments are performed from a source of funding that is
not directly linked to any single NASA program or project and
therefore free from any programmatic bias of schedule or cost.
Results of the Center's four "Pathfinder" studies were reported
to senior NASA leadership from around the country at a meeting at
NASA Headquarters. The reporting approach -- proactively sharing
lessons learned -- was modeled after a similar method used by the
U.S. Navy Board of Inspection and Survey.
The NESC was created in November 2003 to improve safety by
performing in-depth independent engineering assessments, testing,
analyses and evaluation to uncover technical vulnerabilities and to
recommend appropriate preventative and corrective actions for
problems, trends or concerns within NASA's programs, projects and
"I feel very good about what we've accomplished in our first six
months," said Ralph Roe, NESC director, based at NASA Langley
Research Center, Hampton, Va. "We have a talented core of
people working within NESC and an outstanding group of people
matrixed to NESC that we can call upon when needed. We have
positive feedback from the partnerships we've begun with industry
and academia. We've completed our first four technical
assessments; we're working on several new major activities and
requests for our services keep coming in," he added.
While the NESC's current focus is on a successful Space Shuttle
return to flight and the International Space Station, it is
involved in other activities across NASA. For example,
NESC is providing independent expertise for the Cassini Saturn
Orbit Insertion critical events readiness review.
The initial assessments were related to four wide-ranging
Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and Infrared Pathfinder
Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) spacecraft, an Earth Science
satellite set to launch in 2005
· X-43A, a
hypersonic research vehicle that made news with a successful flight
· Space Shuttle
orbiter rudder/speed brake system
Exploration Rovers, now exploring the surface of Mars
In the case of CALIPSO, a joint science mission that includes
NASA and the French space agency, a concern about possible leaks of
the spacecraft's highly-reactive fuel from joints in the fuel lines
during ground processing led to multiple recommendations to
minimize risk to personnel, the mission and the environment.
The record-breaking hypersonic X-43A did not fly until a
dissenting opinion by one X-43A team member was properly addressed.
The employee contacted the NESC with a concern that the research
vehicle's aerodynamic characteristics could potentially lead to a
loss of vehicle control, resulting in failure to achieve mission
objectives. The NESC worked in conjunction with the X-43A project
to ensure that the employee's concern was properly addressed.
During renewal of hardware in a Space Shuttle orbiter
rudder/speed brake system, a concern was raised about the
effectiveness of grease in the gear set of the replacement hardware
that had been retrieved from long-term storage. NESC conducted
extensive tests and analyses to determine that the grease is still
effective. A lesson learned was that programs should periodically
review hardware components to ensure that qualification and
certification limits are not exceeded.
Prior to the two Mars Exploration Rover landings on Mars in
January, the NESC participated in two program reviews. One review
dealt with the very human challenge of supporting round-the-clock
staffing for a mission to Mars, where the Martian day is 40 minutes
longer than an Earth day. The second review looked at entry,
descent and landing data from the first rover landing as a guide to
fine-tuning the entry, descent and landing of the second rover.
While both landings were highly successful, the review revealed
that current spacecraft instrumentation was not designed to
adequately record the aerodynamic environment encountered during
Summaries of the four Pathfinder reports, a video clip,
publication quality images and additional information about NESC
are available on the Internet at: