Thursday, October 11, 2007

Schedule Pressure? What Schedule Pressure?

The NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) has been reviewing degradation of material coating the wings on Space Shuttle Discovery for the past several months. The safety center recommended Wednesday that three panels be replaced before Discovery flies again on Oct 23. But the shuttle program is leaning toward leaving them alone, for now, and proceeding with the launch based on data from other engineers, ignoring NESC.

What is the NESC? Let's read from their overview: "NESC is an independently funded program with a dedicated team of technical experts that provides objective engineering and safety assessments of critical, high-risk projects. This is the charge of the NESC: an organization dedicated to promoting safety through engineering excellence, unaffected and unbiased by the programs it is evaluating. The NESC is a resource and is meant to benefit the programs and organizations within the Agency, the Centers, and the people who work there...Another important function of the NESC is to engage in proactive investigations to identify and address potential concerns before they become major problems."

NESC was formed in the wake of the Columbia accident, piling on yet another layer of review where program engineers could relay their concerns if they felt they had been ignored by their management.

Let's recap the processes and organizations all doing the same job today. First, there is the program itself. If an engineer is correct, and is ignored or not addressed, it is the program manager who should be fired for one of two reasons. Either he ignored his engineer or, if resource concerned to pursue further, he failed to make the proper case to senior management to get the resources needed to resolve the problem. No need for another organizational band-aid to handle walk-around traffic. The buck should stop with the program manager.

But then we also have the Safety and Mission Assurance Organization. And the Chief Engineer's Office. And the Warrant Holders (folks who are supposed to know the systems they are watching as if they were family)...A lot of money is being spent to make sure the programs do their job. Too bad the programs apparently aren't (and if they have, why do we need NESC with all of the other processes in place?). Maybe they should read 7120.5D?

And now, the band-aid says blood may be leaking form a wound and only gets the finger from the program.

Could the Emperor be tapping his watch?

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