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Volume 46 | Issue 1 | January 2004

People & Places

photo: Mike Kehoe
Mike Kehoe

Kehoe selected as NASA Engineering and Safety Center's Dryden onsite representative

Sarah Merlin
X-Press Assistant Editor

Asked to detail what an average day might be like in his new post as Dryden's onsite representative to the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), Mike Kehoe says he doesn't necessarily fear a grinding workload.

Because "if Dryden processes work as they have in the past," he said, "then my efforts will simply supplement the activities of the afety and engineering organizations."

Kehoe is among the staff being assembled from around the Agency and the wider aero world to provide technical expertise to the NESC. His new job title is NESC Chief Engineer at Dryden.

Among the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board was that NASA needed to do a better job of verifying engineering and safety standards and sharing technical information as a means of achieving mission success. With those goals in mind, the NESC was chartered last fall. It is headquartered at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and led by Ralph R. Roe Jr. The new organization reports to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (Code Q) at NASA Headquarters.

Kehoe joins colleagues from every center - each center, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has an NESC chief engineer - who will be working to provide technical insight into high-risk programs and projects. Their job will be to act as both a conduit and as an extra set of eyes in the risk assessment process that is part and parcel of flight research.

Residing at their respective centers will enable the NESC engineers to remain up to date with all issues on home turf. For Kehoe, that means working closely with Dryden Chief Engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer and Safety and Mission Assurance office chief Lawrence Davis to evaluate airworthiness and other important flight safety issues on Dryden projects.

"Marta, Lawrence and I will really be sounding boards for each other's ideas and concerns," he said.

Kehoe will offer more than just additional technical insight into on-site projects. He also will serve as a conduit for passing on technical concerns to the NESC. In those cases, he will convey information back to NESC engineers in various disciplines about project situations involving areas of technical risk that need a closer look, and will tap the larger group for guidance in resolving those situations.

Kehoe comes to the job with a long history in structural dynamics and safety. After five years as a structural dynamics engineer at the Edwards Air Force Base Air Force Flight Test Center, he came to Dryden in 1981. In 1987, he was selected structural dynamics group leader and was responsible for providing technical direction and management for all structural dynamic activity.

He was appointed aerostructures branch chief in 1996 and in that post headed Dryden's Flight Loads Laboratory (FLL). The aerostructures branch, with support of the FLL, conducted analytical and experimental investigations in the areas of structural and aerodynamic loads, aeroelasticity, aeroservoelasticity, aerodynamic heating and cryogenic cooling.

In 2000, Kehoe began serving as deputy director for the Dryden Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and was responsible for establishing, promoting, and improving the safety and mission assurance programs at the Center. In 2002 he accepted a temporary assignment as Center chief engineer and System Management Office director, tasked with assuring the use of sound engineering principles in the conduct of experimental flight research. In that post, he conducted independent engineering reviews in addition to serving as chair of Dryden's Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board.

Kehoe's background made him a natural for the Dryden-based NESC slot. "(The new position) is kind of similar, and kind of different" from those he's had in the past, he said. "The challenge is that I want to avoid being characterized as the Center 'mole.'" Rather, he stressed, "I hope (Dryden engineers) will view the NESC as a resource for helping to resolve technical issues and problems."

The NESC staff around the country "is still in the organizational stages," Kehoe said. "We're anxious to get things solidified so we can see how it's all really going to work."

In the immediate, the group has chosen four projects - including an X-43 transonic wing rock issue and the landing of the Mars rovers - that will be used as a template for refining NESC processes. Kehoe is optimistic about the contributions he and his NESC colleagues can make.

"These are the guys who want to get in, roll up their sleeves and get things done," he said. "It's going to be an exciting challenge."