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Recap: Back in the Saddle with Jim Wetherbee


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January 31, 2019

On Jan. 31, NASA’s Johnson Space Center was visited by retired astronaut and former center deputy director Jim Wetherbee for a presentation about controlling risk in a dangerous world. Wetherbee, who has been involved in the recovery efforts of four major disasters (Challenger, Colombia, and oil and gas incidents involving Texas City and Deepwater Horizon), provided key tips for renewing vigilance to preserve a safe and healthy workplace in 2019. Below is a recap of the event.

Back in the Saddle began with a reminder from Johnson Director Mark Geyer that with upcoming missions—including the first test flights for the Commercial Crew Program and future missions to the International Space Station—this is a great time to refocus on the challenges ahead and ensure that safety continues to be a key component in all of NASA’s work.

Geyer then introduced Wetherbee, who opened by focusing on the importance of mental strength in maintaining safety.

“You have the technical knowledge and skill to do the job, but you also have to have mental strength,” Wetherbee said.

The mental strength allows for disciplined concentration when it matters most. Wetherbee went on to talk about the importance of discipline, not only at an individual level, but as a team. Everyone in the group must remain focused and work together.

“The human endeavor is about working with each other,” Wetherbee said. “That is what spurs us to greatness.” 

Here are some techniques Wetherbee recommends to maintain a safe environment in the coming year.

Balance Confidence with Humility

We must maintain the humility to recognize that sometimes we can make mistakes, and ensure that we correct them before an accident occurs.

Develop and Maintain Risk Awareness

You always have to search for vulnerabilities, maintain situational awareness and anticipate changing risks.

Recognize Divergence

Accidents occur after things begin to diverge from the norm. Understand that when you are doing something to add stress, such as hurrying, auto processing can be overridden and susceptible to mistakes.

Identify ‘Trigger Steps’

Know what matters … and take the time to check the things that could cause a problem later on.

Perform Verification

Go the extra step to verify that something is correct. Don’t just assume. It’s also important to complete different types of verification to make sure that there are no errors.

Practice Error-Mitigation Techniques

Follow procedures and rules thoughtfully. Having a checklist, and continuing to use it, lowers the chance that an error can occur.

"Back in the Saddle" presentation by Jim Wetherbee. Credit: NASA/Norah Moran
JSC Deputy Director Vanessa Wyche thanks Jim Wetherbee after the presentation
JSC Deputy Director Vanessa Wyche thanks Jim Wetherbee after the presentation "Back in the Saddle." Credit: NASA/Norah Moran