DIY Podcast: Failure Prevention

Failure Prevention Resources

Audio and visual symbols Audio/Video Clips
Download audio and video clips.

Blue image frames Images
Use images to transition between scenes.

STEM Disciplines Legend

S in a blue block denoting Science standards-- Science

T in a blue block denoting Technology standards -- Technology

E in a blue block denoting Engineering standards -- Engineering

M in a blue block denoting Mathematics standards -- Mathematics

Loading ...

Failure Prevention: In This Module

Child wearing jetpack stands near the words Failure PreventionYou can use this DIY Podcast module to build a multimedia project about the engineering design process. The module features NASA experts explaining how engineers design, test and refine their designs to prevent mishaps.

Review the Failure Prevention background information to learn where failure prevention fits into the engineering design process. Then read about the extreme measures NASA takes to avoid failure.

This module has audio and video clips of

  • Material engineers discussing how they examine spacecraft after a failure.
  • An engineer explaining how NASA works to prevent failure.
  • Astronauts on the space station discussing how they prepare for and deal with failure in space.
  • Astronauts on a spacewalk investigating a solar array failure on the space station.
  • Examples of certain test rockets exploding during the early days of rocketry.
  • Selected helicopters and spacecraft being dropped during crash tests.

E in a blue block denoting Engineering standards

Get Started

  1. Preview video clips, audio clips and images under Failure Prevention Resources on your left. Download the ones you want to include in your podcast.
  2. Write your script.
  3. Record your narration.
  4. Edit your podcast.
  5. Share your podcast with the world.

Failure Prevention Background Information

"Houston, we've had a problem ..." are the famous words spoken by astronaut Jack Swigert on April 13, 1970, during the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. Apollo 13 circled the moon but never landed. An oxygen tank exploded. The mission was called a "successful failure" because of the lessons NASA learned from rescuing the crew and returning them safely to Earth.

Failure can be part of the design process. When creating new technology or improving on older technology, engineers might use the engineering design process. This process is a set of steps used to help engineers solve a problem or develop a new product.

Failure is not a step in the process but can happen in Step 7, "Build a model or prototype," or in Step 8, "Refine the design." (See Engineering Design Process Diagram)

A flow diagram outlining eight steps for the 5-12 engineering design process

The inventor Thomas Edison did not consider the times his inventions did not work as failures. He said they were ways to NOT do something.

For every NASA mission, the goal is success. If a vehicle, hardware or system fails, it can cost time, equipment, money or even lives.

Testing, Testing
NASA works to prevent failure. One way to prevent failure is by testing the equipment. Before sending humans on a spacecraft, NASA builds replicas of spacecraft called test vehicles. Each system is proven for success. In some cases, vehicles, models of vehicles or parts of vehicles are analyzed in wind tunnels, dropped into water, dropped in a tower, crashed on purpose, shaken on a vibration table, or heated to nearly 3,000 F! Some tests use anthropomorphic test devices, which are better known as crash dummies.
Sims and Analogs
NASA missions and equipment are also tested using simulations and analogs. Aircraft and spacecraft are tested with computer simulations. The Asteroid Simulation Mission is an example of a mission simulation. To prepare for future missions to an asteroid, two-person crews spent three days and two nights living in a mock-up of the Space Exploration Vehicle. A mock-up is a full-sized model.

To prepare for missions on other planets, NASA performs analog missions. An analog mission is in a location on Earth that is similar to the environment of the real mission. For example, the Desert Research and Technology Studies, or RATS, team has worked in the Arizona desert. Desert RATS tests technology in a location that may be similar to a dry, dusty planet.
Planning and Practice
Hundreds of people help to plan and prepare for a mission. Groups of scientists and managers decide the purpose and plan the details. If the mission involves human explorers, trainers teach the astronauts what to do on the mission. And the astronauts practice. They also learn details about the equipment that they will use. To prepare for spacewalks, when astronauts work outside the International Space Station, they practice under water in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab near Houston, Texas. Mock-ups of space station sections are in the water so astronauts can practice what they will do on the spacewalk. Astronauts participate in survival training and learn what to do in case of an emergency.
Lessons Learned
Sometimes systems, technology or equipment fail. Sometimes the unexpected happens. NASA has failure analysts who work to find the cause of the failure. These people are like detectives who search for clues. They use many types of tools and methods to solve the mystery of the failure.

NASA prevents failure by learning from the past. If a mission failure occurs, NASA establishes a mishap board. A mishap is an accident or something that should not have happened. The group of experts on the board analyzes the facts from the failure analysts. The board members find the cause or causes of the failure. Then they suggest ideas for prevention of future incidents.

NASA has a website of lessons learned. These are lessons from previous failures and successes. The site shares information to prevent failure by learning from the past. Scientists, engineers and managers can review these lessons when they are planning a mission or designing technology. The "lessons learned" help NASA know how to succeed and learn what NOT to do. For NASA, failure is not an option.
More About Failure Prevention
› Chopper Crash Test a Smash Hit
› Future Flight Design   
› Orion Videos
› So, You Want to Build a Satellite? Part One
› So, You Want to Build a Satellite? Part Two
› Mars Rover Goes From Shake to Bake
› Rover Shakedown
› About Analog Missions and Field Tests


Page Last Updated: July 10th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Education