July 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 3 
Integrated Defense Systems

The hand of experience

Mission Assurance effort looks to seasoned experts with solid tech backgrounds to get Space Shuttle flying again


Darrell Warner discusses Mission Assurance activities in Houston with Doug MannEngineering acumen, program management expertise and long memories are the hallmarks of a team of space industry leaders who are lending Mission Assurance support to Space Shuttle return-to-flight activities at Integrated Defense Systems.

These experts, including retired NASA and Boeing program directors and engineers, are conducting emeritus reviews as part of Houston's Mission Assurance activities that are key to getting the Space Shuttle flying again.

The Mission Assurance discipline at IDS is based on three key elements: independent reviews and assessments, independent risk assessments and technical integrity verification. Its goal is to identify program risks and ensure that all needed steps are taken to mitigate them adequately.

The work of the emeritus group is one of the ways that the common IDS Mission Assurance approach is being applied to return-to-flight activities. The group's leader is Wayne Littles, former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. During a distinguished 30-year NASA career, Littles also served as NASA's chief engineer and the agency's associate administrator for space flight. In that role, he directed the planning, development and operation of the Space Shuttle, Spacelab and International Space Station programs.

Teamed with Littles is Bob Springer, a former Space Shuttle astronaut and current Boeing employee who most recently managed special projects for the Delta rocket program.

"The emeritus Mission Assurance review team contributes valuable historical knowledge," said Orbiter Deputy Program Manager Mike Burghardt, who is leading the return-to-flight activities for the NASA Systems business unit of IDS.

"Because they have a solid technical background and a broad overview of the agency itself, they have been very helpful in pointing out key areas that we are working on with Shuttle prime contractor United Space Alliance to make things flow better as we start flying again," Burghardt said. "These folks are also able to tell us why they made the decisions they made. That insight isn't always captured in writing from the origins of the program."

Among their contributions is reviewing the Shuttle engineering team's evaluation of original Shuttle hardware certifications, Burghardt said. The certifications were based on original concepts of Space Shuttle operations that have changed greatly, especially since the bulk of Shuttle flight time has been devoted to servicing the International Space Station.

"We've done gap analyses comparing original and recent operating conditions. Based on that, we're taking a more proactive look at the hardware so that we can head off potential problems before they happen," Burghardt said. Specialists in aging flight vehicles from other Boeing businesses are also contributing expertise, he added.

Central focus areas for Mission Assurance in the return-to-flight effort are twofold, Burghardt explained.

The first is technical excellence, to "make sure you get the right answer technically," he said. Key to this are frequent independent reviews by the emeritus group and other subject matter experts from across Boeing who "have the right discipline knowledge but who are not so embedded in the day-to-day that they can't see the forest for the trees."

The second focus area is to create an atmosphere that allows dissenting opinions to be heard. "If all but one person in a meeting agrees, that person is encouraged to write the dissenting opinion down so that it gets aired at the next level with program management," Burghardt said. "In this way, management can decide to ask for more data to better understand the decision criteria."

This approach appears to be meeting the favor of the United Space Alliance and NASA customers, as reflected in award fee grades given every six months on all aspects of program performance. Mission Assurance activities are measured for the safety grade, which came in at 98 out of a possible 100 for the most recent six-month period.

"From my perspective, I see Boeing doing everything that it possibly can to assure mission success in Shuttle return to flight," said Darrell Warner, Boeing IDS director of Quality and Mission Assurance for NASA Systems.

"With the support of the Mission Assurance office at IDS, we are managing to an institutionalized set of processes that are also being incorporated enterprisewide," Warner said.

As the major subcontractor to United Space Alliance, Boeing is under contract for Space Shuttle orbiter production, modification and operation. Additionally, Boeing is responsible for the overall Shuttle system, payload integration services, and launch and mission support.

Space Shuttle Discovery is expected to fly in the return-to-flight mission, STS-114, that is scheduled for no earlier than March 6, 2005.



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