Imposing NASA’s Cube Safety Culture on New Space

written by David Mixson

Sometime back, NASA asked Boeing and SpaceX to add a new cube safety requirement to the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) contract.  

The intent of the requirement went something like this:

“… to ensure companies are meeting NASA’s requirements for workplace safety.”


My best advice to Boeing and SpaceX is to run like hell! I’m begging you—don’t do it. It’s a horrible trick that might make you fail miserably at designing new stuff that launches into space. 

Before you know what happened, a team of our most gung-ho building managers will be planted in your buildings to teach your building managers (yes, you’ll need building managers on every floor) how to be good building managers—the NASA way.

They’ll show you how to make sure that a rogue employee doesn’t have an extension cord plugged into another extension cord, that the safety hotline number is posted within inches of every phone, and that all electrical things have a properly filled-out building permit. NASA takes cube safety seriously.

There’s no getting around it. You’ll be required to have mandatory safety meetings to talk about things your parents should have taught you when you were eight.

What About the Cost?

If you don’t have a choice, you at least need to price it like a pro. I would suggest adding a fee of $2 billion per year. I know this sounds high, but this one innocent-looking requirement might destroy your company.

What next?

Mandatory safety walk-throughs, of course, then signs above every sink in every restroom saying safety starts with you. If you have a building manager like mine, you’ll have safety posters hanging above every urinal encouraging male employees that their aim is an integral part of NASA’s mission. Yes, that actually happened.

Oh, and never underestimate the importance of a fire or weather drill. If you don’t think your NASA-trained building managers will find you hiding under your desk during one, you have way underestimated the NASA safety machine.

Then there’s the annual Safety Day, where you’ll need to shut down your production line, apps to track employee participation in cube safety meetings, and a new requirement to impose NASA safety on all your vendors.

This is what the word safety means to an agency that doesn’t have an Old Space launch vehicle to launch humans into space anymore—pretend metrics to make us feel like we’re doing something important.

A True Story

During a safety walk-through several years ago, my building manager wrote me up for having a small empty cardboard box securely sitting on a shelf about chest-high in my office. He said it was dangerous and that I needed to remove it. I showed him that it was empty and tossed it to him to catch. He easily caught it and told me I had to remove it anyway. I never did.

My best advice to Boeing and SpaceX is to say no to Old Space NASA’s new workplace cube safety requirement. You can thank me later.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about Old Space and New Space. He worked as an engineer at NASA for more than thirty years and is the author of three books.

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