NASA Launches Safety Center

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A new safety and engineering center, with the power to stop a space shuttle launch, will be in place before Atlantis blasts off as early as next December, NASA announced Friday. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told a meeting of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and the Florida Press Association that the safety center will cover all programs of the agency. "They can stop the mission or stop the operational activity or slow it down or whatever else is necessary along the way when they find ... really serious issues that need to be resolved," said O'Keefe. O'Keefe used the loss of the shuttle Columbia as an example of how the center might intervene by analyzing incidents and trends and demanding they be addressed. "The fact that the foam strike, for example, occurred on every flight," O'Keefe said,"[engineers in a safety center] can say 'Wait a minute. Why are you tolerating any of that? Here are the consequences.'" NASA has already made safety-related plans for the next launch, including testing carbon panels to protect the wing leading edges, scheduling daylight launches to ensure clear images are available and enabling astronauts to check for damage after they're in space.