Ken O’Connor, Mishap program executive at the NASA Safety Center, received the “Yes, If” coin from Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) Russ DeLoach during his retirement celebration on May 5. O’Connor retired after more than 30 years of NASA service.
During the coin presentation, DeLoach shared personal memories from his first days as chief, noting that learning the ins and outs of the agency’s mishap processes was a top priority. With increasing launches, both manned and unmanned, knowing what happens if something goes wrong and who is responsible for different actions is essential. O’Connor proved to be an amazing resource and ally in his Mishap program education, assuring DeLoach that NASA is prepared should anything ever go wrong, either in spaceflight or on the ground.
“We need to be able to respond and be agile should something go wrong and to not get baffled,” said DeLoach. “Being calm in the face of an incident, which often results in some level of chaos, is essential — and Ken, Ken is the calmest person I’ve ever met. You [Ken], more than anyone, embody that ‘yes, if’ attitude.”
Harmony Myers, NSC director, agrees. Myers nominated O’Connor for the “Yes, If” coin, noting “His performance in this position [as NASA Mishap program executive] is the epitome of the spirit of ingenuity, creativity and commitment to safety that the agency was built upon. From the everyday routine to special calls for subject matter expertise, Mr. O'Connor has met every challenge head on with diligence and dedication. His attitude has without fail been ‘yes, if.’ He has never let his guard down to complacency even if the matter seemed routine. He never turned down a call for lending subject matter expertise and has always managed to find a way to accomplish the mission successfully while accommodating the needs and requirements of multiple involved partners — in true “yes, if” fashion.”
While O’Connor’s accomplishments are many, a few highlights include
- Facilitating the Quad-Agency Working Group, enabling cooperation and resolution to challenges and issues in effective collaboration among NASA, the National Transportation Safety Board, U.S. Air Force/Space Force and Federal Aviation Administration.
- Leading the Mishap Program Working Group to find solutions to the challenges of the dynamically changing environment in which the NASA Mishap program operates.
- Briefing the new administrator and deputy administrator on their roles in the event of a NASA mishap.
- Leading and completing an update to NPR 8621.1, NASA Procedural Requirements for Mishap and Close Call Reporting, Investigating, and Recordkeeping and initiating an early update due to various policy changes.
- Enabling the ability to maintain Mishap program excellence in the face of a dynamically and frequently changing COVID-19 restriction environment.
- Overseeing effective mishap investigations and their report-outs, especially during the two-year pandemic, including the completion of a major mishap investigation in less than 45 days and a high visibility commercial space mishap.
“Mr. O'Connor has been the backbone of the NASA Mishap program, largely due to his ‘yes, if’ attitude and his collaborative approach,” said Myers. “The work he has accomplished will serve as a sound foundation from which to build on as NASA evolves into the next era in the true spirit of ‘yes, if!’”