[...] The shift to commercial crew transportation has created some specific issues in the last year mentioned in the report. The panel cited a “concerning dissonance” between NASA and SpaceX during preparations for the Crew-1 landing last May. The two organizations “differed in their understanding of the level of risk to be incurred” regarding a nighttime landing of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA initially preferring a daytime landing as the lowest risk option. SpaceX argued that a nighttime landing was acceptable and offered better sea state conditions than the proposed daytime landing. The report stated that “last-minute communications had been necessary to ensure NASA approved the plans for the night landing.”
There was also a difference of opinion between NASA and Boeing involving the risk of stuck propulsion valves on the company’s CST-100 Starliner that delayed an uncrewed test flight last summer. Boeing evaluated the risk as low, the panel said, while NASA considered it moderate during a flight readiness review. That review, the panel concluded, “revealed NASA and Boeing do not share a common understanding of how to assess and characterize risk.”
[...] The panel also took issue with the “disaggregated” way NASA’s exploration efforts are organized. That structure treats the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems as separate programs, which the panel attributes to the uncertain direction of the agency’s exploration programs after the cancellation of the Constellation program more than a decade ago.
Among the panel’s recommendations was to create an integrated Artemis program led by a single manager “endowed with authority, responsibility, and accountability” along with a bottoms-up approach to systems engineering and integration as well as risk management. NASA sometimes refers to an “Artemis program” today, the panel noted, but without the formal program architecture that risks “confusing both employees and contractors about who is ultimately responsible and accountable.”
It might help NASA if Congress would stop treating it like a jobs program.