NESC Break Up Begins

NASA Announces New Cleveland Safety Center

"The center will complement the NASA Engineering and Safety Center based at Langley. Both centers will support safety but have separate and independent supervisory chains to ensure consideration of various points of view about technically complex issues. The Cleveland center will report to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA Headquarters, Washington."

Editor's update: This strikes me as a reversal of the initial intent of the NESC - one derived from CAIB recomendations. Its almost as if NASA is now redistributing the singular, focused safety role away from the NESC back out to field centers - where that expertise came from in the first place. Not only does NASA have NESC in a position to duel with programs and centers over safety, it has set the stage for two separate field-centered based "independent" safety organizations to duel with each other - and, in so doing, diminishing the singular, independent role that NESC could have played.

Reader Comments:


Keith: I've read your website for years, it is one of the most widely read, and most officially denied website in the NASA culture. Since I work for the agency, please do not post this with my name.

In my opinion, your take on the new Safety Center is incorrect. Had the NESC been correctly established in the first place the new center would not be needed. However, there has been little focus on safety from the NESC regarding policy or procedures. There have been engineering investigations and training that reference safety, and some safety training of personnel, but always with the engineering and technical aspects being the primary drivers. Since you have experience with the agency it should come as no surprise that when you give technical personnel a technical problem they approach it from a technical point of view of getting that problem solved, sometimes without the broader vision of how that approach may affect safety of the system.

This can be verified by going back and looking at all the job announcements for the NESC. You will find little, if any, reference to any safety requirements regarding background, specialty, experience in safety or degrees in safety referenced in the staffing for this center. This was created for technical engineering, by technical engineers, for technical approaches in solving technical problems. Sometimes the problems are not technical in nature. These include human factors, accident investigation, and process controls. You will notice that with the hiring requirements in place for the NESC some people within the agency with advanced degrees in safety, including aerospace and systems safety won't even qualify due to HR restrictions placed on the position due to the type of degree the center was hiring for. In short, a "freshout" electrical engineer will qualify, but a person with advanced degrees in safety, including aerospace safety with years of experience will not.

The agency is doing a good job of establishing and identifying ownership of requirements. With the new ITA model, this will make it easier to know if a requirement is an engineering requirement, or a safety requirement. With the new ITA system, SMA personnel will not have waiver authority for engineering requirements and engineering will not be able to waive SMA requirements. This makes for a strong model that makes it clear who owns the requirement, why it is a requirement, and what makes good rationale to waive that requirement. It will require the owner of that requirement to know what it is, why it is, and that will determine what makes sense to waive and what that waiver affects.

The creation of this center is a step in the right direction. The next step will be to see if it is adequately funded and how they will approach ownership of requirements across the entire agency to include program, project and institutional requirements.

I agree this may appear to be overkill in the creation of another center. However, since we had one chance to do this and failed with the NESC, and failed in spectacular fashion, let's give this a chance to see what we can make of it.

Please, keep the info coming.


I do not believe that the new NASA Safety Center at GRC is replacing or diminishing NESC at LaRC. As you well know, the triumvirate of successful programs consists of Program Management, Engineering, and S&MA. The Challenger and Columbia disasters were both attributed, in part, to the fact that Program Management had absorbed, and could thus overrule, the other two. This, in effect, eliminated the checks and balances that exist when each of the triumvirate are independent and equal in authority. The NESC was created as an "independent Technical Engineering Authority" as an immediate response to CAIB recommendation R7.5-1. I think that Agency management has concluded that something similar is needed for S&MA.

This new Safety Center is in direct response to the NASA Exploration Safety Study which criticized NASA S&MA as ineffectivel. The NASA Safety Center is to S&MA as the NESC is to Engineering. It is a little confusing because the NESC has "Safety" in its name when it really serves an Engineering function, not a Safety function. You may even see a change in the name of NESC to clarify this, not to change or diminish its role (e.g., change "Safety" to "Systems").

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on October 11, 2006 11:04 AM.

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