NASA, Safety Panel Say Commercial Crew Information Now Flowing

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WASHINGTON — Officials with NASA and its independent safety panel told a House committee Feb. 27 that the agency is now starting to share technical information about its commercial crew contracts after that panel recently complained about a lack of access.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), in its 2014 annual report published Jan. 28, said it could not evaluate the safety of NASA’s commercial crew program because it had been met with a “seamless set of constraints” from agency officials when it requested information about ongoing work.

ASAP chairman Joseph Dyer told members of the House Science space subcommittee at a hearing about the program that NASA was now more open about sharing information. “[Charles] Bolden, the administrator of NASA, indicated he was going to correct the situation,” he said. “We are beginning to see the early stages of making that turn.”

William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said at the hearing that NASA was now providing ASAP with detailed information about its commercial crew contracts awarded in September to Boeing and SpaceX.

“ASAP will have access to all the contract details,” he said. “We’re beginning to give all that data to them and we will continue to give it to them.”

Members of the committee criticized NASA at the hearing for not being more open with ASAP. “I’m just incredibly dismayed about ASAP’s difficulty in obtaining the kind of information that they need to advise the Congress,” said. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), ranking member of the space subcommittee, asking Gerstenmaier for assurances that ASAP will have “full and unfettered access” to contract information.

“They got a significant amount of information in January from the agency, and they will continue to get more as needed,” Gerstenmaier said.

Dyer said ASAP had received “gigabytes of data” from NASA, and was following that up with more detailed briefings. “The future is beginning to look better,” he said, “but we can’t yet answer the question as to whether or not the certification process looks good and safe to us.”

Dyer said the difficulties ASAP encountered with accessing commercial crew data reminded him of similar issues in some Defense Department programs. In those cases, he said, “an inexperienced program director, being perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed, believes that protecting the program from any criticism, or from any of those who might speak questioningly of it, is their first responsibility.”