Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
May 12, 2004
NASA Safety Center Releases Initial Assessments
The Director of NASA's Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), based at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., reported on the results of initial assessments today.
The NESC was created after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident to serve as a source of expertise for evaluating the merits of technical concerns identified by agency employees. Assessments are performed from a source of funding not directly linked to any single NASA program or project and therefore free from any programmatic bias of schedule or cost.
Results of four NESC Pathfinder studies were shared with senior NASA leaders and posted to NASA Web sites. The reporting approach, actively sharing lessons learned, is modeled after a similar method used by the U.S. Navy Board of Inspection and Survey.
"I feel very good about what we've accomplished in our first six months," said NESC Director Ralph Roe. "We have a talented core of people working within NESC and an outstanding group of people 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.
The NESC focus is on the successful Space Shuttle return to flight and the International Space Station. The NESC is also involved in other NASA activities, such as providing independent expertise for the Cassini Saturn Orbit Insertion critical events readiness review.
The initial assessments were related to four major projects: The Cloud-Aerosol Light Detection and Ranging and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) spacecraft, an Earth Science satellite set to launch in 2005; the X-43A, a hypersonic research vehicle that successfully flew in March; the Space Shuttle orbiter rudder/speed brake system; and the Mars Exploration Rovers.
CALIPSO is 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 fuel lines during ground processing led to multiple recommendations to reduce risk to personnel, the mission and the environment.
The record-breaking hypersonic X-43A did not fly until a dissenting opinion by one team member was properly addressed. The employee contacted the NESC with a concern about the vehicle's aerodynamic characteristics, which could have lead to a loss of vehicle control, resulting in failure to achieve mission objectives. The NESC worked with the X-43A project to ensure the employee's concern was properly addressed before the test flight.
During review 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 retrieved from long-term storage. NESC conducted extensive tests and analyses to determine the grease is still effective. A lesson learned was programs should periodically review hardware components to ensure qualification and certification limits are not exceeded.
Prior to the two Mars Exploration Rover landings 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, since 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 successful, the review revealed the spacecraft was not designed with adequate instrumentation to distinguish the separate effects of density and drag coefficient errors on the aerodynamics encountered during entry, descent, and landing.
For summaries of the four Pathfinder reports, a video clip, publication quality images and information about NESC on the Internet, visit:
http://nesc.nasa.gov For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:
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