National Aeronautics and
John F. Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
Reply to Attn of: TV- ETD
January 23, 1996
Dr. J. Wayne Littles
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC 20546-0001
Dear Dr . Littles:
Thank you for the October 12, 1995 letter which responded to concerns that I expressed to President Clinton in an August 25, 1995 letter regarding proposed restructuring within NASA and its effects on shuttle safety. Although I appreciate your effort in addressing my concerns, I and hundreds of colleagues within NASA KSC Engineering who also reviewed your response letter do not agree with many of the comments and conclusions you made.
First of all, your comment that the Orbiter Processing Facilities' nonstandard work is primarily standard work done to nonstandard schedules is simply not true. During the past year at KSC, the majority of our engineering personnel's work effort was spent addressing nonstandard, unplanned problems that occurred during shuttle processing.
Our data (refer to Attachment "A") shows that over 280 first time anomalies occurred this past year alone at KSC. First time anomalies represent problems for which there are no historical precedence or available experience bases within NASA. If numerous first time anomalies, such as those regularly experienced at NASA, occurred within the commercial flight industry, aircraft would regularly be grounded. The significant number of first-time anomalies that the shuttle experiences proves that it is still an aging R&D vehicle that requires daily checks and balances to ensure safe operation. Changing the current checks and balances system that is successfully used within shuttle processing could allow subtle anomalies to go unnoticed during launch preparations, potentially resulting in catastrophe.
In your letter, you state that ground processing problems are at an all-time low. This statement simply cannot be made given the fact that the number of problems from launch to launch has varied enormously during the past 30 launches and has not demonstrated a downward trend. (Refer to Attachment "B" Figure 1) In addition, a comparative review of past and present Interim Problem Reports (IPRs) does not indicate a downward trend in detecting ground processing anomalies. (Refer to Attachment "B" Figure 2)
Your statement that in-flight Anomalies (IFA) are at an all-time low is a safe one because the number of these occurrences has historically been low. However, the real reason that the number of IFAs may seem to be decreasing is primarily because IFAs have been separated from one single category into several categories such as "funnies", "documented problems", "explained condition", "non-problem", and "GFE IFA". (Refer to Attachment "C")
In your letter, you state that "cannibalization" activities are also at an all-time low. Again, this is not entirely true because instead of "cannibalizing" components (i.e. moving components directly from one shuttle to another), these components are being "re-allocated", meaning they are removed from one shuttle for several reasons prior to that vehicle's major modification period and are shelved/stored until they are needed. Our data indicates that while "cannibalization" activities may be down, so-call "reallocation" activities (which are one in the same) are increasing. (Refer to Attachment "D")
Regarding you references to NASA's assurance role and what NASA Engineering and Quality Audits (NEQA) and Process Product Integrity Audits (PPIA) add to Shuttle processing, it is important to understand that these activities may only help in terms of potentially making the process better and more efficient and will likely have very little to do with adding safety to the process. The NASA/Contractor team and the daily, hands-on checks and balances system of doing business throughout the processing flow at KSC provide the margin of safety required to launch. Your statement that checks and balances will change in nature, but not in importance indicates that KSC has done a very poor job of educating the rest of NASA regarding how business is conducted at KSC and how our actions significantly contribute to the overall safety of shuttle processing operations and launches.
Finally, I'd like to address an issue that you did not discuss in your response letter, but I believe warrants discussion. I have witnessed activities that indicate that KSC is being forced to meet some arbitrary headcount regarding personnel utilizations. Although I realize the need for downsizing and economizing NASA's activities as proposed in the National Performance Review, I strongly believe that these personnel numbers should be derived based on what is best for the safe operation of the Shuttle program and not based on politics. If or when personnel reduction requirements are established, KSC (not NASA headquarters) should be allowed to determine staffing needs to maintain safety and a checks and balances system of operations.
Contrary to what your letter states, NASA cannot ensure a safe, reliable flight program without involvement in the day-to-day operations of its contractors. I feel that there is enough data to warrant re-evaluation of the direction that the Shuttle program is taking in removing NASA's involvement in the checks and balances way of doing business.
Electrical & Telecommunications
Vehicle Engineering Directorate
HQ/Code Q/Fred Gregory
HQ/Code M/Will Trafton
TV/J. Robert Lang