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Volume 46 | Issue 1 | January 2004

People & Places

photo: Larry Crawford
Larry Crawford

Crawford appointed NESC deputy director

Jay Levine
X-Press Editor

A select few people have the background in safety and Space Shuttle and space station engineering that Larry Crawford has acquired during his career. Now, Dryden's director of Research Engineering is returning to his NASA safety roots by accepting a new post as the deputy director for safety at the new NASA Engineering and Safety Center, or NESC, that has been established at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

"I'll have a great deal of work interfacing with safety and mission assurance, risk assessment teams and using tools like fault tree analysis, sneak circuit analysis, hazard analysis, failure mode analysis and many more technical details. I'll be focusing primarily on detailed engineering analysis and testing, and will draw as much from my engineering background as my safety experience," Crawford said of his new assignment.

"It's a tough job for everyone getting the Shuttle back to flight," he added.

He has formally accepted the NESC position, but his work at Dryden is not yet complete and he intends to continue some back-and-forth travel through February.

As Research Engineering director, Crawford said he has a team of outstanding engineers who have made significant strides in improving systems integration.

"I felt that the engineers' place was the attention to detail on things that could cause someone to be hurt, or could mean the loss of a vehicle," he explained.

His has been a distinguished career in safety, which was highlighted by his selection as a winner of a Quality and Safety Achievement Recognition (QASAR) Award in the category of a NASA employee outside the Safety and Mission Assurance organization. Crawford, the first Dryden civil servant to win the Agency's top safety award, received the honor March 7, 2003.

The QASAR Award is one of NASA's most prestigious safety awards. A passage from his nomination letter spelled out some of the criteria on which he was chosen, including "diligent efforts to improve the safety of the projects and activities conducted at Dryden. His passion for safety is evident in all aspects of his work and he has set an example for others to follow."

"I am very proud of the (Research Engineering) organization. There are such good people here. Nearly everyone is a self-starter and there's no dead wood.

"I show up and have fun; everyone else does the work," he joked.

But Crawford doesn't joke about the quality of his directorate or the importance of safety.

"The directorate has done well in developing new ideas and an abundance of technology," he said. "Our engineers' innovations include ducted inlets for rocket-based, combined-cycle engines, aerospike engines, neural networks and aerodynamics. A lot of that technology will have big payoffs 20 years down the line.

"I take some pride in the fact that not only have there not been any serious injuries or accidents, but we haven't hurt any individuals while doing a good job with inherently hazardous work," he said.

Crawford said his successor will manage with shrinking resources for the next several years, while the Space Shuttle and International Space Station requirements take center stage in the NASA budget and in national debate.

"It will be a big job to maintain the technical excellence and redirect the team to new projects," he said. The scope of Space Shuttle return-to-flight activities also could include Dryden, he added.

Crawford sees his new post as one in which he will use his technical abilities and feels that the new independent safety center will "add an extra layer of confidence needed to fly in the hazardous environment of space."

He also is on board with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendation that fundamental changes are required in the NASA culture to prevent a repeat of the Challenger and Columbia tragedies.

"Some long-held approaches to managing risk, especially, that drive out dissenting opinions have not worked effectively. Hopefully, NESC and Safety and Mission Assurance (the Headquarters code that oversees the NESC) will have the technical fortitude to change that culture," he said.

"It strikes me that there are similarities between what the Center faces and what the Shuttle program endured. The Shuttle was continuously cut back in terms of resources and reductions in the technical workforce. Dryden faces that today, and it will get worse. Dryden has clearly got to identify what it can handle safely and what work it simply cannot cover because of workforce reductions," he said.

Decisions, he stressed, must be clearly focused on the Center's strengths.

"There is a difference between having the technical abilities to solve a problem and make a vehicle work, versus 40 projects where engineers are bouncing from one to another. That's a formula for failure. Nobody enjoys working on so many things that they don't feel confident they're doing their best work," Crawford said.

"The strategy has to be set, especially during these times, to focus on what contributions we can make to the Agency and cut loose what we would be only marginally effective in doing."

A long-term planning organization at Dryden is currently focusing on the Center's future and a strategy aimed at maximizing resources and developing future work to stabilize the Center's workload and workforce. Crawford has some recommendations on developing strategy.

"You have to be tough when looking at the budget, and, especially in early formulation of programs, you have to have slack built in, and reserves. In this business there are so many unknowns that you won't make it to the sunset of your program if you don't plan enough in the beginning. You can't 'build up' anymore. Up front, you have to pay for it, schedule it and plan for technical problems. You don't want to push for a compromise later when you're getting close to flight. Schedule should not be a driver at this point in the flow," he emphasized.

Crawford spent the first 10 years of his career as a member of safety organizations, beginning with several U.S. Army positions, including Chief of Safety for the Army Materiel Command Safety Office. In that post, he earned the Department of the Army Decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service in 1980.

Crawford's experience in safety also helped him land the next series of jobs at NASA, which began with a job as director of the safety office at NASA Headquarters. That position entailed management of the NASA safety program, including aviation, space, nuclear, ground operations, fire and industrial safety.

In addition, he is well versed on the contents of many of the Agency's safety handbooks, having helped author them.

Crawford also served as a project engineer on the Shuttle orbiter (OV-103) for the director of Space Shuttle Engineering at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., helping coordinate the work of numerous subsystem engineers and technicians in conducting test and checkout of the Shuttle prior to launch

Crawford was twice recognized by NASA for his leadership abilities. He earned the Agency's Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2002 for promoting and inspiring flight research capabilities and the Presidential Senior Executive Service Rank Award in 2001 for "sustained superior accomplishments in management programs and noteworthy achievement of quality and efficiency in public service."

At Dryden, Crawford previously served as director of Aerospace Projects. Another previous Dryden assignment was as project manager for the X-43A. That program involves development of advanced scramjet, or supersonic ramjet, technology with an integrated airframe.

Crawford's career path also included a detail to the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Space at the Pentagon as a special liaison for launch vehicles in 1996. That position entailed duties coordinating NASA and Department of Defense technology needs for a reusable launch vehicle.

He had several positions during a nine-year stint at NASA Headquarters. One of those was director of Data Systems and Trend Analysis (an office formed after the Challenger accident). His office prepared new risk management policies and procedures for the Agency and the Space Shuttle program. He served as special assistant for Commercialization in the Office of Space Access and Technology. And from December 1989 to October 1994, he was the manager, program engineering for NASA Level II Space Station Freedom Project in Reston, Va.

Crawford earned his undergraduate aerospace engineering degree from Mississippi State University in 1970, and a master's of engineering degree in industrial engineering (with an emphasis in safety) from Texas A&M University in 1971 as part of the Army's Safety Engineering Intern Program.