As the Facility Safety program executive at Headquarters, Jose Caraballo works with Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) managers and various institutional groups to help them accomplish the agency’s mission of keeping NASA employees safe.
Caraballo stepped into this role in January 2021 and is careful to point out that he is responsible for offering support and assistance as it relates to safety, not creating guidelines for NASA centers to follow.
“I’m not here to establish rules and requirements, but more so to be a support and help others accomplish their jobs,” said Caraballo. “I do anything I can to help keep people safe and facilities operational so the mission can get accomplished.”
With a career spanning 37 years, safety is more than just a day job for Caraballo, it’s part of his DNA. He began his career as a safety engineer in the U.S. Army, where he was a System Safety engineer for several aircraft fleets including the CH-47 (Chinook) and UH-60 (Blackhawk), among others. After four years working for the US Army Aviation Command, Caraballo joined the safety department at Kennedy Space Center, before eventually becoming the safety manager at Langley Research Center. These roles paved the way for his current position and taught him valuable lessons along the way.
“I understood how to get the job done safely and accomplished with limited resources,” said Caraballo. “I was responsible for helping management ensure the safety of their employees, so I had to learn how to work, interact and collaborate with other groups.”
When it comes to his leadership style, Caraballo has always trusted the judgment of those he works with, while also offering support when needed.
“I’ve always said that we hire professionals, and they know what to do,” said Caraballo. “But if they don’t, I will help them get to a point where they can have enough tools and knowledge to do the job.”
Caraballo’s goal in his new position is to bring the centers’ perspective to the agency level, while also helping centers better understand the work done at NASA Headquarters/agency OSMA. He believes fostering continued collaboration and sharing knowledge at all levels at the agency is important. Given the changing workforce at NASA, he views this goal as especially important.
“We have a new generation [joining NASA], with people retiring and changing jobs, so we need to collect data and knowledge so we can prepare for those who will follow us,” said Caraballo.
As he reflects on the challenges of his role, Caraballo views establishing trust as an important hurdle to continue overcoming. He understands that individuals at the center level need to trust that Headquarters/Agency OSMA is there to help, and he is using the reputation he’s earned throughout his career to bridge those divides.
“[In SMA], you are in charge to help management understand their responsibility of the safety of all [the people you work with], so you have to learn how to work and interact with other groups and develop collaboration outside safety.”
Looking further ahead, Caraballo wants to continue emphasizing that Headquarters/agency OSMA is a resource for all NASA centers and supervisors, as well as center management, to help them protect their people, public, facilities and flight hardware. It is Headquarters’ duty to aid each center in accomplishing their mission.
“We are a tool to help, and we want to always keep that in mind,” said Caraballo. “We want to present information about potential risks while also having a relationship where individuals trust that we’re not trying to stop their work. We have a shared mission at NASA, and we are a part of helping that mission to be accomplished.”