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Safety First at Kennedy
It doesn't matter how fast, small or colorful technology is if it's not user-friendly. Using impractical tools at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is even more detrimental, as it can affect safety and productivity.

As a preventative measure, center experts research and apply techniques of human factors, focusing on how people interact with products, tools, procedures and processes and making them function in a way that seems natural to people.

"KSC is the main operations center for NASA. The potential for injuries and accidents increases at an operations center, as well as the probability for the severity of the injury," said NASA Sustaining Engineering Office industrial engineer Jessica Mock.

Mock, who recently spoke on behalf of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center Academy, said human-factor experts aid designers and engineers in developing products and processes that are more natural to human movements.

NASA Industrial Engineer, Jessica Mock Several space center employees attended the course at George Mason University in Virginia to discover what NASA has learned from the past and how future projects, such as the crew exploration vehicle and all ground operations, will benefit from these lessons.

Image right: Jessica Mock's focus is studying human factors at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

During orbiter processing, the discipline reduces risks to flight hardware, personal injury and time on a task in the safest way. Human factors are also used to assess work place areas, such as an employee's desk, for cumulative trauma disorder risks and other ergonomics concerns.

"When the orbiter was originally built, the designers did not intend for all systems to be tested, removed or replaced every flight. However, today many systems are worked on each flight and access is sometimes limited or obstructed. This is apparent in the aft when work has to be complete in bay six," said Mock, offering an illustration of how human factors are used to solve problems at Kennedy.

Other examples are improving lighting in the Orbiter Processing Facility, replacing headsets with wireless models, upgrading cold plate installation and removal procedures and processes, and reconfiguring the wheel shop process into an efficient assembly line.

Some recent projects have also relieved the physical stress of workers. For instance, the "self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble suits" from the 1970s were redesigned to comfortably and safely fit today's users. Preventing the upper-body tension window washers often suffer is another ongoing effort.

NASA also uses human factors during accident investigations. Investigation board members examine all of the related operational aspects, determine what went wrong at a task level and offer guidance to correct the issue. This often involves updating confusing procedures and providing helpful pictures and diagrams for technicians.

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Jennifer Wolfinger, Staff Writer
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center