NASA‘s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), an advisory committee that reports to NASA and Congress, issued its 2021 annual report Tuesday examining the agency’s safety performance over the past year and highlighting accomplishments, issues, and concerns.
The report highlights 2021 activities and includes observations on NASA’s:
- Strategic Vision and Guiding Principles
- Agency Governance
- Program Management
Throughout 2021, the panel explored the status of NASA’s ongoing program of work and focused on the longer term, strategic posture of the agency to address risk management. As a result, this annual report continues the panel’s focus on strategic issues and their bearing on current development, exploration, and operational matters.
The report notes the rebalancing of roles and responsibilities between NASA and industry has generally succeeded but adds this trend has changed how NASA executes its mission. As a result, the panel believes it is crucial for NASA to strategically evaluate the path ahead and determine the future shape of the organization.
The panel has identified a series of issues it believes NASA will need to address with respect to the agency’s plans and aspirations for the future, along with how the agency intends to interact with both commercial and international partners, its risk management approach, and its changing workforce and infrastructure needs.
Specifically, the report recommends that NASA should develop a strategic vision for the future of space exploration and operations; establish and provide leadership through a “board of directors” that includes agency center directors and other key officials, with the emphasis on providing benefit to the agency’s mission as a cohesive whole; and manage Artemis as an integrated program with top-down alignment. The panel also reiterated a recommendation from its 2020 report that Congress designate a lead federal agency for civil space traffic management.
The report is based on the panel’s 2021 fact-finding and quarterly public meetings; insight visits and meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making processes; discussions with NASA management, employees and contractors; and the panel members’ own experience.
Congress established the panel in 1968 to provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA administrator on safety matters after the 1967 Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of three American astronauts.
“The rapid changes occurring in space technology, investment, and operations define an inflection point for the space sector,” said ASAP Chair, Dr. Patricia Sanders. “As NASA looks to the future and moves to expand human knowledge and operational capabilities beyond LEO, it must recognize and adapt to the new environment and decide strategically how to forge humanity’s path outward while managing the risks in an appropriate manner.”