NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA) updated NPD 8700.1, NASA Policy for Safety and Mission Success, effective July 28, 2022, building on developments from the past decade, including experiences from commercial crew, discussions about robotic mission classification, changes to the agency’s governance handbook and NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel recommendations. OSMA solicited and incorporated feedback from centers, mission directorates and other offices into the final release.
“NASA’s Policy for Safety and Mission Success continues to be relevant to agency operations, as it governs the assurance of NASA activities,” said Russ DeLoach, chief of Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA). “The prior revision had largely become out of date. We needed to evolve the policy to align with NASA’s changing environment and practices — we’ve entered the next era of aerospace and the sustainability of our space activities is front and center. We wanted to better reflect those themes as well as highlight the significance of a strong organizational culture.”
As the governing policy, changes reflected in this revision are expected to flow down to other future policy updates. Other changes include the cancelation of NPD 8020.7, Biological Contamination Control for Outbound and Inbound Planetary Spacecraft and NPD 8720.1, NASA Reliability and Maintainability (R&M) Program Policy.
“The document defines the basic principles and responsibilities that define how we manage safety at NASA,” said Dan Thomas, senior attorney at NASA Headquarters, who assisted in the review of the document.
The new policy is based on three objectives:
- Assuring acceptable levels of flight crew safety and mission success risk.
- Protecting the public; workforce; high-value property; and the terrestrial, orbital, and planetary environments from potential harm due to NASA operations and activities.
- Cultivating a robust Safety Culture that values and pursues technical and organizational excellence in order to understand and reduce risk.
A main focus of Revision F is aligning the policy with NASA’s risk leadership philosophy, as defined in NPD 1000.0, NASA Governance and Strategic Management Handbook, particularly with regard to crew safety and mission success, as well as protection of others, including the space environment. Ultimately, Mission Directorate Associate Administrators are responsible for, “Defining safety and mission success risk postures consisting of acceptable levels of risk for their missions and crews to inform decisions regarding the information, implementation, and assurance of the mission.”
A large part of working in this new era of spaceflight is defining acceptable risk and increasing the agency’s flexibility regarding policies.
“We recognize that in the new era of aerospace, we need to move from an environment in which we rely on NASA-prescribed standards and the NASA way of doing business,” said Frank Groen, deputy chief SMA. “We need to allow for alternative approaches developed by industry to achieve those same objectives so that safe and successful spaceflight can happen. This is acknowledged in the new policy by allowing flexibility in the selection and acceptance of derived crew safety and mission success objectives, associated strategies, standards, and requirements, as long as the case can be made that that the associated risks to crew safety and mission success are within the established risk posture — that is, they satisfy the criterion for “how safe is safe enough?” for crew safety.”
The new policy introduces a general safety management framework for managing risks when exposing “others,” or rather the public, workforce, property and environment, including the orbital and planetary environments, to possible harm. The framework calls for the adoption of effective and responsible safety standards and promoting the adoption of such standards by others.
Specifically, section 1.b.7 references, “Sharing NASA safety standards, guidelines, and best practices with international, interagency, and commercial partners operating in a shared space environment to manage hazards and mitigate risk to NASA missions, operations and the public.”
“NASA intends to be a leader in the space community that encourages its partners to adopt responsible and effective standards to uphold the safety of the space environment,” added Groen.
The policy now also recognizes the role of other federal entities when it comes to authorizing missions and any risk to the public or space environment. With NASA increasingly depending on commercial services, this has become a more important issue. Even when other agencies are not involved, missions should still ensure they are authorized to place others at risk and perform the necessary notifications.
Finally, the policy focuses on the need to look at the agency’s Safety Culture in a systematic and structured manner.
“Safety Culture is the foundation for our continued and future safety and mission success,” said Groen. “We have a strong Safety Culture throughout the Agency, but we always need to look at how we ensure it’s instilled in every person, regardless of whether their role is in safety. We’re in a different work environment in many ways these days. As an agency, we have more and more commercial partnerships driving our work, and on a day-to-day level, many of us are adapting to new, hybrid work environments. How do we ensure everyone, whether a NASA employee or an agency partner, whether at a center or at home, feels connected to Safety Culture? We must continue to nurture these values.”
The update puts a strong emphasis on these organization factors and their impact on safe and successful missions. OSMA will continue to evolve a Safety Culture program that monitors Safety Culture trains and provides advice to leaders around the agency.
Questions about the NASA Policy Directive can be directed to Groen.