The audit report “Space Shuttle Safety Upgrades” (IG-02-020) has been posted to the NASA Office of Inspector General Web site at:

The Space Shuttle is the only U.S. vehicle that can launch humans and payloads into space and safely return them from orbit. Since the Space Shuttle Challenger mishap, NASA has improved the safety of the Space Shuttle; the estimated risk of catastrophic failure during launch decreased from 1 in 78 missions in 1986 to 1 in 556 missions today. The continued safe operation of the Space Shuttle is a top priority and is essential in NASA’s ability to support the assembly and operations of the International Space Station.

NASA has made investments in Space Shuttle safety improvements over the last several years. At the same time, NASA has reduced the Space Shuttle budget by about a third through efficiencies and contract consolidation. Having achieved these budget reductions, continued improvements in Space Shuttle safety will require additional investments.

During the audit, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued “Fiscal Year 2003 Budget of the U.S. Government,” assessing the Space Shuttle Safety Upgrades Program as ineffective. The basis of OMB’s assessment was NASA’s large cost overruns and schedule delays in improving the safety of the Space Shuttle.

Results of Audit

NASA appropriately managed safety upgrades approved for implementation to ensure that they met established safety objectives, were selected using quantitative and qualitative factors, and were adequately funded for fiscal year (FY) 2002. In addition, we found that NASA ensured that the integration of the safety upgrades did not adversely affect the Space Shuttle flight schedule. Although the safety upgrades approved for implementation were adequately funded for FY 2002, the Congress and Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel expressed concerns about the adequacy of future funding.

Management’s Response

NASA management stated that the report substantiated that significant efforts are under way by the Agency and the Space Shuttle Program Office to fully recognize and integrate all aspects of human space flight within the confines of safety, mission, and budget. Many decisions are dependent on the results of ongoing studies including those related to extending the life of the Space Shuttle through 2020.

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