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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.

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.

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