NASA making progress toward '05 shuttle lauch

Improvement reported on safety, culture issues

The Nation

August 27, 2004|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,ORLANDO SENTINEL

WASHINGTON - Even as NASA scrambles to fix the space shuttle in hopes of launching in the spring, a parallel effort to strengthen its safety culture is making progress, a consultant said yesterday.

On the first anniversary of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's sweeping - and scathing - review of the February 2003 tragedy, the chairman of a company hired to help the National Aeronautics and Space Administration tackle the problem said early signs point to long-term success.

In its report, the board famously called NASA's safety culture "broken" and said it was as much of a factor in the accident as the insulating foam that flew off Columbia's external tank and punched a hole in its left wing.

But Thomas Krause, whose company, Behavioral Science Technology Inc., has a five-year contract, said observers from his firm already are seeing positive changes.

"If the present actions and trends continue, it is likely that NASA will be successful in transforming its culture," Krause said yesterday during a conference call with reporters.

In April, BST released the results of a survey of nearly half of NASA's workers, which indicated that employees are committed to safety in concept, but that the space agency's culture is not fully supportive of it - and that some workers were not totally comfortable raising concerns.

Though the company will not take the survey again until next month, Krause said that in shuttle-program meetings and individual sessions with senior managers, he and others see greater willingness to promote communication and dissent.

But changing NASA's culture will take time, he said.

"The challenges in this kind of work are almost always the same - it's like changing a tire on a moving car," Krause said.

Though the culture-change effort is a long-term one, NASA has a much shorter timetable for making safety modifications recommended by the board to the remaining three shuttles.

NASA has completed work on five of the 15 things the board said had to be done before the next launch. However, there are still many open items, from the effort to stop the external tank from shedding foam - which is almost finished - to development of a boom with sensors that will help measure damage done to the orbiter during its ascent into space.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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