National Aeronautics and
Washington, DC 20546-0001
Reply to Attn of: M/Q
OCT 12 1995
Mr. Jose Garcia
John F. Kennedy Space Center
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899-0001
Dear Mr. Garcia:
Although your letter to the President has not yet been referred to NASA for response, we want to answer your thoughtful questions because we're sure that there are others in the Shuttle program who share your concerns. You are correct--as NASA downsizes to meet the requirements of the National Performance Review and the national budget, we must not jeopardize the safety of the Shuttle and its crew in an effort to economize. We must and will ensure that we keep stringent requirements for safety in the forefront of all our downsizing plans.
Space Shuttle ground and flight operations do, as you point out, still have a measure of nonroutine work. But the program is in many ways very mature. The in-flight anomalies, ground processing problems, overall mishap rate, and cannibalization rates are at all time lows for the program. After 71 flights, much of what we do to prepare crews and hardware for missions is well established and practiced. Although we still do nonstandard work in the Orbiter Process Facility flows, much of it is standard work done to nonstandard schedules.
It is understandable that some people, especially those who have spent their careers in the existing structure, might think of this restructuring as NASA turning its back on the Shuttle program. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, NASA will still be responsible for the Shuttle program and that, of course, includes the safety of the hardware and crew (both flight and ground). NASA can ensure a safe, reliable flight program without directly managing the day-to-day routine operations of its project contractors.
The checks and balances we have all learned to work with will change in nature but not in importance. We won't need as many civil servants in the long run, because the routine oversight tasks previously done by our engineering, safety, quality, business, and project management workforce will transition to the contractors. We will, however, remain heavily involved in the critical tasks related to nonroutine activities. We will work with the contractors to solve problems, anomalies, and out-of-family issues. Also, we will develop new requirements and designs that might arise from them. Our assurance role will be as important as ever. We will improve our audits and will involve the government engineering community along with the Safety and Mission Assurance (S&MA) community in these "smart audits" in order to provide the right level of insight into the contractors' processes. Only in this way will we, at Flight Readiness Review time, be able to confidently give a NASA "go for launch."
The program will transition project accountability to the prime in stages, with the more routine work moving early and the less mature, or development related activities, transferring later. In all cases, however, we'll need advice and strong leadership from all levels of NASA management to plan and execute the proper transition steps. We'll take as long as is necessary to make these comprehensive changes, as we must assure ourselves that we are not reducing the level of safety we've established for the program.
Thank you for your willingness and courage to continually voice your concerns. Your dedication to the Space Shuttle program and your sincere concern for safety are greatly appreciated.
Dr. J Wayne Littles
Associate Administrator for
Frederick D. Gregory
Associate Administrator for
Safety and Mission Assurance