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Smoking Is Cool, Right?

Safety Message

Even before NACA became NASA, scientists had confirmed and published evidence of the lung cancer risks associated with nicotine in cigarettes. Yet, its powerful, addictive chemistry continues to fuel a multibillion-dollar American habit that costs lives. 

 It is up to each individual: No one else can supply the necessary willpower to quit. Each of us can choose to summon the willpower, or cheer on others, to achieve freedom from the lifeshortening effects of smoking. 

This month, Dr. Vince Michaud refreshes our recollection of the risks while also providing insight into the effectiveness of various approaches to stop smoking. 

Skin Cancer Prevention and Screening

Safety Message

Each year in the U.S., over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. There are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime. Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, can develop from less dangerous types of skin cancer. Although simple screening exams can catch this process before it begins, one person dies of melanoma every hour. We are all vulnerable.

As a member of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, NASA has been working to lower these statistics. The first year on the council, NASA was awarded the American Academy of Dermatology's Golden Triangle Award for our agencywide skin cancer prevention efforts.

Please take time to view this message from NASA's Chief Health and Medical Officer Dr. J.D. Polk and remember to set up a screening exam during your next physical. It’s quick and simple and could possibly save your life.

The Dangers of Distracted Driving

Safety Message

As a society, we have become reliant on technology both at work and at home. Many of us keep our cell phones on-hand around the clock, believing an instantaneous response is not only wanted, but expected from friends, family and colleagues. Although we all feel inclined to meet these social expectations, it’s crucial that we adjust our behavior when driving and put down or turn off our cell phones until we reach our destination.

NASA policy prohibits use of hand-held devices while driving on NASA property or operating a NASA vehicle. In an attempt to honor this policy and be safer drivers in general, we often turn to hands-free devices; however, research shows that hands-free doesn’t mean risk-free.

I urge you to not use your cell phone while driving, even with hands-free technology. That phone call or text message can wait — your life is more important. 

Apollo 1: Lessons and Legacies

Safety Message

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire and the tragic loss of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

I strongly believe that we need to regularly look back at our mishaps and revisit their lessons. Your review of the organizational causes that were common in all three of our major mishaps is our best insurance against repeating those painful lessons.

I encourage you to take time, on this anniversary, to remember the lives we lost and recall what we learned as we moved forward with human spaceflight. Using 30 minutes of your next staff meeting or program control board to discuss this would be a fitting tribute to those that literally gave their lives to our nation’s space program.

Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Outreach Forum

Event Video

Outreach Forum hosted by the Aircraft Management Division to share information regarding requirements, rules, regulations and planning suggestions for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS).

Lessons Learned From Apollo, Challenger and Columbia

As we approach our Day of Remembrance for the Apollo, Challenger and Columbia mishaps, it's important to recognize that we fell into persistent, systemic behaviors over the decades separating each tragedy.

How do we set precedents today upon which to base better decisions in the months and years to come?

These hard-earned lessons, distilled into rules by Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, point us in the right direction moving forward.

Safety of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations at NASA

Safety Message

It should come as no surprise that small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) or “drones” are becoming more popular as NASA research platforms. Their use also has been on the rise in other arenas such as in facilities, protective services and construction. The potential applications of these vehicles are endless.

In August, the Federal Aviation Administration released new regulations that address the intense national interest in civil sUAS operations and provide guidelines for safe operation. Within NASA, NPR 7900.3C governs sUAS usage and recently was augmented to address the heavy increase in sUAS operations within the agency.

If your organization is considering applications that involve sUAS it is a good idea to partner with your center’s Aircraft Flight Operations Office for advice and guidance during planning and procurement actions. Please take the time to review the information in this month’s Safety Message, provided by the Aircraft Management Division, which oversees all sUAS applications at NASA.

Mining Your Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for Weak Signals

Safety Message

In the U.S. Marine Corps, all leaders are asked to do two things: 1) accomplish the mission and 2) take care of your people. Usually, this is followed with “If you do No. 2, your people will take care of No. 1.”

There are a lot of things that fall under “taking care of your people.” Some of the more obvious ones are building unit cohesiveness, providing training and development at all levels, ensuring safe and adequate working spaces, and ensuring your people have the tools and equipment necessary for mission accomplishment.

Another critical part of taking care of your people is establishing a positive “command climate.” One definition of command climate is what life is like within the organization. It is the culture of the unit, the way it conducts its business. The leader of the organization is solely responsible for its command climate. This responsibility includes ensuring capable and competent management exists at all levels within the organization. The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) offers senior leadership insight into both the performance of individual managers within the organization and the unit’s command climate. Question 17 in the FEVS asks if employees feel they can report an issue without fear of retribution. For NASA, the best place to work in the federal government, the percentage of positive responses to that question is approximately 80 percent. We can interpret that as one out of every five employees telling senior management, through this survey, that the climate in his or her unit needs to be improved. This particular issue is critically important to NASA because of the difficult and challenging nature of our missions. It is vital that managers are aware of any issues so they can evaluate the associated risk to people and missions. A command climate that didn’t encourage or tolerate people bringing up issues played a role in both shuttle mishaps.


I encourage you to mine your FEVS for information on the command climate throughout your organization. Question 17 is a good place to start. As the Aerospace Advisory Panel once reminded us, “It shouldn’t take an act of courage to raise an issue.”

The Balance Zone: Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls

Safety Message

Ever since centers began recording slips, trips and falls, these incidents have remained the single most frequent cause of injury at NASA. Across the United States, slips, trips and falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits with more than 8 million cases per year, and, perhaps more surprisingly, they are the second leading cause of accidental deaths. Injuries sustained from a slip, trip or fall can lead to a lifetime of pain, not to mention the medical costs and lost productivity.

Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has developed a novel, highly effective approach to prevent injuries and close calls caused by slips, trips and falls, regardless of external hazards. The approach augments traditional efforts to maintain safe work areas and walking surfaces with specially designed balance workout areas called “Balance Zones.” Backed by classroom training and guest speakers, Balance Zones offer a new and interesting way for KSC employees to improve their overall balance and reaction to hazards.

Sharing these types of innovative initiatives across all NASA centers is another way we can work together to reduce injuries from slips, trips and falls.

The NASA Safety Center (NSC) has produced two campaigns to help raise agency awareness of slips, trips and falls, including an article and videos highlighting KSC's outstanding efforts. 

DOE Safety Basis and Unreviewed Safety Question Processes

Event Video

The Office of Safety and Mission Assurance hosted a seminar — featuring the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Mike Hillman — on the DOE’s Unreviewed Safety Question (USQ) process. 

During the seminar, Hillman discusses

  • The similarities between NASA and DOE
  • Documented Safety Analysis highlights
  • Safety Evaluation Reports
  • The DOE's USQ process

Skin Cancer Prevention and Screening

Safety Message

Each year in the U.S., over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. There are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime. Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, can develop from less dangerous types of skin cancer. Although simple screening exams can catch this process before it begins, one person dies of melanoma every hour. We are all vulnerable.

As a member of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, NASA has been working to lower these statistics. The first year on the council, NASA was awarded the American Academy of Dermatology’s Golden Triangle Award for our agencywide skin cancer prevention efforts.

Please take time to view this message from Dr. J.D. Polk on behalf of the Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer and remember to set up a screening exam during your next physical. It’s quick and simple and could possibly save your life.

Training Updates in NPR 8621.1C

Policy Byte

Gerry Schumann, Mishap Investigation program executive, reviews updates related to training requirements in NPR 8621.1C.

Mishap Preparedness Contingency Plans in NPR 8621.1C

Policy Byte

Mishap Investigation Program Executive Gerry Schumann explains requirements pertaining to Mishap Preparedness Contingency Plans, commonly known as MPCPs, as outlined in NPR 8621.1C.

Overview of Updates to NPR 8621.1

Policy Byte

Hear Gerry Schumann, Mishap Investigation program executive, discuss major updates in NPR 8621.1C, Mishap and Close Call Reporting, Investigating, and Recordkeeping. In these videos, he focuses on

  • An overview of the three major changes
  • Training
  • Mishap Preparedness Contingency Plans


White Sands’ Standard Parts Database for Pressure Vessels

White Sands Test Facility created a comprehensive Standard Parts Database for pressure vessel information. Hear how the database has increased safety at the facility. 

Lightning Safety

Safety Message

Lightning strikes the U.S. about 25 million times each year, killing an average of 49 people. Many more are struck and suffer severe injuries. Many of us may carry inaccurate, preconceived notions concerning what to do when lightning strikes. This month, Steve Cash, director of Safety and Mission Assurance at Marshall Space Flight Center, debunks the myths and shares the hard facts of lightning strikes. He also addresses what we can do to protect ourselves.

The Role of "Heart" in Heart Disease

Safety Message

As leaders, we often say, "Take care of your people." Some of the most serious risks we face pay no attention to workplace boundaries. This month, Grant Watson, director of Safety and Mission Assurance at Langley Research Center, shares his personal message of how his parents’ heart disease changed how he regarded his own heart health. May his message encourage you to reflect on your own story and on lowering heart disease risk.

Dissenting Opinions

Safety Message

After a mishap or major disaster, it’s natural to ask what we could have done better had we only known about a defect or flaw sooner. Sometimes those who see something before the test begins or the vehicle launches speak up. Sometimes they’re heard. NASA has experienced mishaps and tragedies where individuals within and outside of our agency had technically sound differing views that were never heard by decision-makers.

Although NASA’s process for submitting a dissenting opinion is outlined in NPD 1000.0B, NPR 7120.5E which includes the NASA Spaceflight Program and Project Management Handbook, Program and Project Managers should be actively seeking out dissenting opinions and addressing them in a clear, open and timely manner. This presentation will focus on the dissenting opinion process, identifying what a dissent is and how the process should unfold. Please take some time to thoughtfully reflect on this presentation; after all, it could be one of us whose choice to speak up could save lives at some point.

Administrative Controls for Fire Safety Hazards

Safety Message

In the last half of 2015, three separate fire incidents occurred at NASA's Glenn Research Center. All three fires were immediately detected by operators or fire alarm systems and extinguished. Damage was assessed and regular operations resumed within a few days of each incident. Two fires were classified as Close Calls and one was classified as a Type D Mishap.

While response to each fire was excellent, such incidents give us the chance to refine preventive administrative controls by establishing pre-fire plans that address pre-operation checks, maintenance services and rapid detection of incipient fires. Changing weather and holiday leave periods can heighten risk of fire occurrence, while lowering the odds of on-scene employee detection. Some administrative fire prevention controls can even be applied informally to increase home safety. Engineering preventive barriers and firefighting controls are of course essential in the workplace, but administrative controls are important as well.

NASA Aviation Safety: Procurement Quality Assurance

Safety Message

Procurement of aircraft parts without specific knowledge and expertise is a significant risk. Each center that operates aircraft currently handles parts acquisition differently, without a standard set of agency-wide processes or procedures. By consolidating aircraft parts purchases at the NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC), we have the ability to standardize the acquisition of quality aircraft parts and services.

However, this is not without its own challenges. While some flying centers will see no impact since they acquire aircraft parts via existing maintenance contracts, other centers possess greater potential issues. Centers no longer have closed-loop systems to ensure that the aircraft parts they are purchasing are the parts that they receive. Non-flying centers may acquire Unmanned Aerial Systems subject to the same risks. If this situation is not addressed properly, we could be increasing risk to our aircraft fleet. Combining the knowledge of aircraft maintenance experts from each center with the NSSC may be the solution to providing parts and supplier assurance.

Workplace Safety on ISS

Safety Message

Like any other NASA facility, the International Space Station (ISS) requires regular maintenance and upkeep. Inside the ISS’s dynamic environment, regular cleaning and routine inspections prevent both health and hardware problems. The crew cleans essential systems, work stations and emergency equipment to ensure readiness for use at a moment’s notice. Although the crew is constantly attentive, every six months a crewmember films the entire cabin interior and egress path of the U.S. Orbital Segment so that engineers on the ground can evaluate conditions from a fresh point of view.

If a new perspective is beneficial for the ISS crew, imagine how helpful it can be for you.

Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health: The Cost of Failing To Identify and Mitigate IDLH Hazards

Safety Message

On Nov. 15, 2014, four workers died and a fifth was hospitalized after exposure to a 24,000-pound methyl mercaptan leak at a DuPont plant in La Porte, Texas. The leak occurred in a building that was positioned over chemical plant piping, which included a failed valve. The Chemical Safety Board investigation later found that the valve had no documented function and served no manufacturing purpose. The enclosed office space was not designed to be a confined space, and hazard assessments did not identify Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) risks within the space. However, the workers were overcome by toxic gas while doing normal work there.

This month we look at the DuPont La Porte incident and three other incidents where workers were overcome by toxic or oxygen-displacing gases while performing routine work. In each of these situations, the risk of personal exposure to IDLH atmospheres was either not identified or underestimated by management or the workers operating in those environments.

Using Ionizers for Electrostatic Discharge Control

Ionizers can neutralize the charge on insulators near sensitive mission hardware before and during work. Watch this video to find out how ionizers help prevent damage caused by Electrostatic Discharge and how they should be tested and maintained.

Electrostatic Discharge Overview

Damage from Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) can put an entire mission at risk. Just a tiny, imperceptible shock can harm sensitive hardware. This video explains how ESD damage occurs and describes prevention techniques.

Testing Flight Hardware

Safety Message

On May 7, 2007, the composite reflector for the Aquarius spacecraft underwent acoustic testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Environmental Test Chamber. The reflector was damaged by an anomalous test procedure stemming from a deviation from the normal test procedure. Additionally, the test control system software was not up-to-date, and there was no acoustic subject matter expert present during the test. Although Aquarius launched and successfully completed its mission, the test deviation and lack of diligence resulted in a Class A Mishap.

Due diligence is necessary when engineering, operating and maintaining state-of-the-art flight hardware. We test as much as possible in order to assure high rates of success across all of our programs and projects. Testing itself may be viewed as a measure of diligence — perhaps even a luxury during periods of low funding. However, it is necessary that we are thorough and conscientious in our testing procedures as well.

The Value of a Sustained Maintenance Program

Safety Message

Maintenance of infrastructure has been a popular topic for news media this past year, with outlets reporting on the degradation of dams, bridges and even the U.S. highway system. At NASA, the challenge of balancing rising maintenance costs and renovating, replacing or repurposing decades-old infrastructure grows with the end of each major program and with flat or declining budgets.

In 2014, the cost of not performing maintenance on a low-risk system became apparent when Langley Research Center’s Transonic Dynamics Tunnel suffered a cooling coil breach and subsequent water intrusion. Due to the unique operating parameters of the tunnel, mitigating the leak was a lengthy and challenging process. Moreover, the inoperative tunnel lost Langley potential testing revenue upwards of $2 million. Although a series of fiscally sound decisions may prevent systematic maintenance in the short run, we must be aware of the long-term risk involved with every system.

NASA and Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Safety Message

NASA projects are flying Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) at an ever-growing rate to complete scientific research, assist other government agencies with emergency response and learn how to safely navigate the National Airspace System along with crewed aircraft. While many weigh just a few pounds, measure flight time in minutes and are limited to line-of-sight control, some weigh thousands of pounds, have international range and utilize satellite-link control. A wide range of potential issues exist.

What are the rules? Who helps researchers and operators understand and follow them? This month's message focuses on SMA requirements for UAS operations in a world of change.

What Role Does NASA Leadership Play in NASA Safety?

Safety Message

Any time there’s a lull in mishaps or high-visibility close calls, we have a natural tendency to shift focus to other demanding areas (cost, schedule, program risks). This can distract us from noticing the subtle clues that indicate that the next serious incident is about to occur.

Weak signals of danger are always evident, even if we do not notice them over the demands of daily activities. Attentiveness is the single most valuable habit to develop during these lulls. Everyone in the organization can and should stay vigilant to spot these signals and know what to do when they encounter one. In addition, when an indicator is identified, the organization needs to determine if it constitutes an acceptable risk, or if action is necessary.

This month's Safety Message examines situations when signals appeared and were missed, or when a signal was communicated but the risk was not understood.

Backover Accidents: Preventable Tragedies

Safety Message

Every year, thousands of children — about 50 a week in the U.S. — are harmed because drivers who were backing up did not see them. These incidents often take place in residential driveways or parking lots. Most of them involve large vehicles, like trucks, vans and SUVs. Most of them involve a parent or close loved one behind the wheel. Please take some time out of your day to reflect on these figures and what you can do to keep your own family and those around you safe.

Return To Flight

Safety Message

This seven-elements approach systematically identifies weaknesses within a given "prove it's safe" argument for flight approval, allowing mitigation options to be discussed. Thus, those with the power to say "yes" to residual flight risk can better understand what is being accepted.

February Is For Remembrance

Safety Message

At 7:45 p.m. on April 20, 2010, four British Petroleum and Transocean VIP’s landed aboard Deepwater Horizon for a Management Visibility Tour. The agenda: to credit the crew for 7 years with no lost-time injuries, and to check workplace conditions for occupational hazards found recently on other rigs. Seven hours later, the worst oil rig blowout and offshore spill in U.S. history transpired. Had there been focus on process safety, in addition to Institutional Safety, the blowout may have been averted. 

The Cost of Silence

Safety Message

From the Challenger and Columbia disasters, to the Costa Concordia running aground, to the recent ISS EVA 23 event, all have involved normalization of deviance and groupthink. Understanding the symptoms of these two conditions can help us plan for them, avoid them and stop them.

Safety and Mission Success Review

Feature Video

The Safety and Mission Success Review (SMSR) video provides an introduction to the SMSR, which is a voice-recorded, predecisional briefing co-chaired by the NASA chief of Safety and Mission Assurance and the NASA chief engineer. The purpose of the SMSR is to independently assess the readiness to proceed with a NASA mission, both human and robotic, as well as test flights and demonstrations of commercially developed launch vehicles and spacecraft.

Student and Intern Safety

Safety Message

It doesn't have to be spectacular to hurt. A lot of people get hurt doing unspectacular things, such as preparing food, cutting across lawns, tripping on floor mats and lifting and moving objects. People also get hurt when they are unfamiliar with their workplace and the associated hazards.

What NASA does is risky. When we bring new people on board, it is imperative that we train them in general safety practices and specific hazards of the job and environment. Managers need to be sure that all employees are aware of what they need to do to work safely. All NASA employees need to know what to do in an emergency and how to report safety concerns. Preventing unspectacular mishaps will help prevent larger and more serious mishaps.

NASA Contract Quality Assurance Requirements Clarified in Revised Policy

Policy Byte

Brian Hughitt discusses how NPR 8735.2B was updated to reflect NASA's current strategic vision, priorities and resources.

Software Safety Standard Updated to Reflect the Latest Best Practices

Policy Byte

Martha Wetherholt explains how changes to NASA-STD-8719.13C bring NASA’s requirements for safety-critical software up-to-date with best practices in software safety design, analysis and development.

Mishap Classification Changes and Other NPR Revisions Mean Fewer Type B Mishaps and Better Investigations

Policy Byte

Gerry Schumann explains the four major changes to NPR 8621.1B for Mishap and Close Call Reporting, Investigating and Record-keeping and what they mean for you.

Safety Cases: Concept, Experience and Prospects

Event Video

In this seminar, John McDermid, professor of software engineering at the University of York, discusses the concept of safety cases, the motivation for producing them, and some of the notations and approaches to representing them.

The Importance of Technical Authority

Safety Message

Technical Authorities in engineering, safety and mission assurance, and health and medical all play an important role in NASA's decision-making processes. Hear Administrator Charles Bolden deliver this month's Safety Message on the importance of Technical Authority.

Fall Prevention in Construction

Safety Message

Russ DeLoach, Kennedy Space Center, delivers the July Safety Message on fall prevention in construction.

NASA's Meteoroid Work

Knowledge Byte

Bill Cooke, lead of NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office (MEO), provides expert insight on the agency's meteoroid work in this series of Knowledge Bytes.

  • The Meteoroid Environments Office — What MEO does, its responsibilities and the challenges that it faces
  • Meteor Shower Forecasting — How forecasting works and how it helps protect astronauts and spacecrafts
  • The Chelyabinsk Fireball — Background on the fireball that appeared over Russia in 2013 and how it demonstrated the danger of smaller meteorites
  • The Leonid Meteor Storms — How the Leonid meteor showers of 1998-2002 led to the development of meteor shower forecasting
  • Photographing the Lyrid Meteors From the International Space Station — The story of an astronaut on the International Space Station who photographed the Lyrid meteors
  • The Sky Fireball Camera Network — What the network is, how it works, the information it provides and the types of cameras involved.

Creating a Strong Safety Culture: Lessons Learned

Safety Message

Chief Engineer Ralph Roe presents the Safety Message "Creating a Strong Safety Culture."

Orbital Debris

Knowledge Byte

In this series, Nick Johnson, NASA's former chief scientist for Orbital Debris (OD), discusses orbital debris work at NASA. 

  • Changing Minds: Educating People on Requirement Changes — The challenges that accompany requirement changes and what it takes to overcome them
  • Operation Burnt Frost — Johnson's experience with the operation that intercepted a defunct satellite falling back to Earth
  • History of Orbital Debris — NASA's past OD work including the creation of national and international standards of practice
  • Future of Orbital Debris — What Johnson sees as the future for the agency's OD work

Counterfeit Parts: Multi-Billion Dollar Deception

Safety Message

Listen to Steve Foster, acting chief of the Quality Assurance Branch, present the May Safety Message on counterfeit parts.

ISS EVA 23 Suit Water Intrusion

Safety Message

Listen as William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, presents the April Safety Message on the ISS EVA 23 Suit Water Intrusion.

The Legacy of Orbital Debris

Safety Message

Dr. Mark Matney from NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office discusses orbital debris and space safety in the March Safety Message.

Apollo 1-Challenger-Columbia

Safety Message

Every year as we get back in the saddle, our Remembrance Day signals us to think back to the tragic events of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia as well as the context surrounding them. We're accountable for learning from not just what went wrong, but how we recovered. As an example, read these rules recorded by Wayne Hale, former NASA flight director and Space Shuttle Program manager. By actually applying such lessons from the past to your current work, our actions can honor our lost crews beyond silent reflection. 

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Featured Video

Feature Videos

Learn about the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, its disciplines and programs, and much more in these feature videos.

Safety Message

Safety Messages

Guest speakers deliver the monthly Safety Messages in these live recordings.

Knowledge Bytes

Knowledge Bytes

These short videos provide expert insight on various safety and mission assurance topics.

Policy Bytes

Policy Bytes

Policy owners explain recent changes to policies and standards in these short videos.

Event Videos

Event Videos

Video captures of live events on Safety and Mission Assurance topics.