Space Shuttle Lessons Learned

Download the Space Shuttle Lessons Learned Knowledge Forum PDF

As NASA prepares for the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the development of its replacement, it is timely to reflect upon the many important lessons learned from key areas of the Space Shuttle program. Colleagues from Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Johnson Space Center shared personal shuttle program stories, insights, and lessons learned. The forum sought to encourage new ways to share knowledge, which can then be leveraged to improve our current processes and procedures, as well as benefit the development of new systems and future capabilities.

This forum was a collaboration between the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership and the NASA Centers Lessons Learned Steering Committee. This one-day pilot introduced participants to NASAs Lessons Learned Information System process, content, and uses; NASAs case study knowledge-capture process; and a review of insightful space shuttle case studies and lessons learned from Kennedy, Marshall, and Johnson.

By capturing and sharing knowledge across the agency, we are establishing a community of reflective practitioners, whereby we will all be better equipped to leverage knowledge that will enable NASA to create better processes, systems, and vehicles in the future.



Introductory Module: Capturing Knowledge


  • Michael Bell is the program manager for the agencys lessons learned program and serves as the center data manager for the Kennedy Space Center. In this position he promotes the collection and sharing of knowledge through the Lessons Learned Information System, which is a tool to improve project performance and promote technical excellence.
  • Barbara Fillip is a knowledge management specialist in the Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer at Goddard Space Flight Center. She came to Goddard as a contractor with Library Associates Companies in May 2008 after spending more than ten years working in the field of international development, occupying functions encompassing program and project evaluation, information and communication technologies for knowledge sharing, as well as capacity building and training.

Abstract — The NASA Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS) is the backbone of the NASA
Lessons Learned Program. This information system is part of the NASA Engineering Network, and the Office of the Chief Engineer serves as the Office of Primary Responsibility for oversight of the NASA lessons learned process. NPR 7120.6 (Lessons Learned Process) is part of the family of engineering technical requirements that govern NASAs program management functions. The LLIS captures experience from successful tests or missions, mishaps or failures; all are excellent sources of learning. This system enables self-paced and collaborative learning so researchers, designers, or project managers can search and submit lessons, helping employees across the agency to learn from collective experience.

Module I: Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Lessons Learned


  • Russel E. Rhodes is a native of the state of Indiana, where he earned a BS in aeronautical engineering from Indiana Institute of Technology in 1958, and a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for more than fifty-five years. He has been employed for more than fifty years at Kennedy Space Center.
  • George Veaudry has spent his entire professional career with NASA. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from the University of Florida, he launched his career in 1976 as an unpaid Kennedy Space Center intern working on the Bicentennial Celebration. Impressed with the quality of his performance and his general work ethic, Mr. Veaudry was offered a position in the Shuttle Engineering Directorate, working on the auxiliary power units (APU) and hydraulics systems. He later served as the lead APU/hydraulics systems engineer at Dryden Flight Research Center for the first experimental shuttle Enterprise OV-101 approach landing tests.

Abstract The knowledge of ground processing and the practices refined during the shuttle program represent a unique experience base. A Ground-Processing Knowledge-Capture Lessons Learned team recently led an effort to capture knowledge at Kennedy Space Center. The team identified 184 potential lessons learned from twelve existing launch-site-support product teams for input into the NASA Lessons Learned Information System. Many of these lessons learned entries concern the interface between the Space Shuttle system and the ground processing infrastructure with recommendations, design considerations, and requirements for human-rated launch and recovery operations. This information will have a major impact on future programs across the agency.


  • Jody Singer currently serves in a dual role as the deputy project manager for the Shuttle Propulsion Office (SPO) and as the deputy manager for the Ares Project Office at Marshall Space Flight Center. Appointed deputy project manager of the SPO in October 2007, she has served as the deputy project manager for the Ares Project Office since March 2010. As SPO deputy, she is responsible for the manufacture, assembly, and flight readiness of the primary Space Shuttle propulsion elements: the main engines, external tank, solid rocket boosters, and motors.
  • Carolyn S. Griner was employed by NASA, starting as a cooperative education engineering student from Florida State University in 1964 and ending with her retirement after thirty-six years in January 2001 as the deputy center director of Marshall Space Flight Center.

Abstract Over the past thirty years, Marshalls Shuttle Propulsion Office has played a key role in the safe and successful operation of the venerable Space Shuttle. This presentation will summarize key lessons learned across the shuttle propulsion elements during the vehicles life cycle. Included in this discussion are lessons learned from the reusable solid rocket motor that led to the evolution of the current motor, as well as the importance of testing and post-flight assessment, adequately addressing minority opinions, and the development of the seven elements of good flight rationale. The presentation will also highlight the history of the Space Shuttle main engine (SSME) along with reasons for its success, including how engineering disciplines and practices have improved as issues with the SSME have been resolved. The reusable solid rocket booster chief engineer will discuss a lesson on unintended consequences experienced by the element, with both positive and negative effects. In addition, the presentation will look at improvements made to the super lightweight tank as the result of materials testing and upgrades. Finally, these discussions will highlight how integrating new knowledge into existing processes led to improvements in cost, performance, and safety throughout the Space Shuttle program.


Module III: Johnson Space Center Space Shuttle Lessons Learned


  • Frank Buzzard spent a distinguished thirty-year career with NASA at the Johnson Space Center, retiring in 2003 after leading the Columbia Investigation Task Force. He then served as the Barrios Technology program manager for the International Space Station (ISS) mission integration contract until 2005. During his NASA career, Mr. Buzzard served as chief engineer of the Space Shuttle, chief engineer of the ISS, and ISS program director/senior system integration manager at NASA Headquarters.

Abstract Retired NASA Space Shuttle Chief Engineer Frank Buzzard will present examples of shuttle lessons learned in two categories; better is the enemy of good enough and flying with design deficiencies. Actual flight experience examples will be used to derive valuable lessons. Examples of successful design upgrades will also be presented. In addition, Johnson Space Center representatives will share their knowledge regarding the Columbia accident organizational communication and how the Mission Operations Directorate incorporates lessons learned.