Aerospace Professionalism

Going forward, professionalism is clearly needed

The Space Shuttle program has ended and its history of decisions is behind us. What should be taken away from this experience, however, is that a mindshift in professionalism with respect to operational safety is needed. Letting operational safety slide by under the guise of astronaut “right stuff” is not acceptable for the commercial human spacefaring operations coming this century. The American aerospace industry has substantial industrial mastery with respect to building safe flight systems meeting the demanding standards of “airworthiness certification”. This applies to both military and civilian flight systems, manned and unmanned. This same standard of professional expectations now needs to be applied, from the outset, as the Spacefaring America Initiative is undertaken.

There is no shortcut to achieving good operational safety. When the American aerospace industry demonstrates this, as it develops America’s commercial human spacefaring capabilities, operational safety will become a critical factor of American leadership in space just as it has been in its leadership in aviation. An unsafe flight system sits on the ground, until it is properly fixed, or it is abandoned. It is professionally unethical to continue to fly a system known to be unsafe absent an overriding substantial reason.

This same focus on professionalism needs to extend to all aspects of program development and operations. The workforce undertaking the development of these new American spacefaring capabilities needs to have at its core a cadre of aerospace professionals ethically dedicated to a high set of professional standards. Within the engineering profession, these are registered professional engineers. To avoid circumstances that would parallel the poor decisions made during the Space Shuttle program, the Spacefaring America Initiative must be led by these dedicated aerospace professionals.