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GAO: NASA Should Standardize Loss of Crew Risk Computation

The Government Accountability Office has recommended that NASA enforce a standard method for establishing the likelihood of astronauts being permanently injured or killed while on board a spacecraft.

NASA’s administrator should instruct pertinent agency heads “to collectively determine and document… how the agency will determine its risk tolerance level with respect to loss of crew,” the GAO said in the July 2018 Congressional report on its audit of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Meeting the acceptable risk level for the loss of crew is a critical requirement of NASA’s safety certification process for space vehicles under development.

However, the GAO discovered during its audit that offices within the space agency compute for the metric differently, incorporating risk factors in a non-uniform way, thus arriving at differing values.

The GAO report also noted that the agency does not have a system in place to record lessons that would be learned from using the loss of crew metric as part of the safety threshold.

The report said that the absence of such a system deprives future programs of the opportunity “to benefit from the knowledge gained from this multibillion dollar investment.”

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