IT changes will boost shuttle safety, panel says

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board last week recommended management changes and technical fixes to overhaul NASA's culture and shuttle systems. The board has been evaluating the deadly Feb. 1 accident for seven months and tracked down dozens of organizational and technical factors that led to the disaster.

Among the problem factors were cultural traits and organizational policies that led to poor engineering practices, including the failure 'to understand why systems were not performing in accordance with requirements,' said the report.

The 29 specific recommendations, some of which the board said should be adopted before the next shuttle flight, included several IT items:
  • Create new physics-based computer models to evaluate the effect of debris strikes on the shuttle's exterior

  • Improve the imaging systems used to monitor the shuttle, including the regular capture of additional vehicle images by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency

  • Redesign the shuttle's Modular Auxiliary Data System to improve monitoring of the vehicle's flight status

  • Create an independent Technical Engineering Authority to develop, maintain and enforce engineering standards, including hazard-reporting systems

  • Recertify materials and subsystems that support or are aboard the shuttle.

The board concluded that the shuttle is not inherently unsafe and should return to flight.

It cautioned, however, that 'unless the technical, organizational and cultural recommendations made in this report are implemented, little will have been accomplished to lessen the chance that another accident will follow.'

To read a copy of the report online, go to www.gcn.com and enter 152 in the GCN.com/search box.

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