Image: Bridges
Roy Bridges, director of NASA's Langley Research Center, says the agency's safety and engineering center is on track to begin operations Oct. 1.

A NASA safety center being created in response to the Columbia space shuttle accident is on track to open around Oct. 1, the man overseeing its startup said Tuesday.

Roy D. Bridges is in his second week as director of NASA’s Langley Research Center, where the new NASA Engineering and Safety Center will be based. He said developing the safety center will be his top priority.

The independent center will perform engineering assessment and testing to support critical NASA projects and serve as a central clearinghouse for staff concerns during future missions.

The creation of a safety center addresses a concern by the Columbia accident investigation board that NASA doesn’t have enough technical expertise in its existing safety organizations, Bridges said.

The Columbia broke up on Feb. 1, killing all seven astronauts on board.

A Langley engineer was among those involved in e-mail discussions in the days before the disaster. He had raised the possibility of damage to the spaceship’s thermal protection system from a flying piece of foam during launch.

The concerns were forwarded to Langley’s acting director, whose staff was assured by Johnson Space Center in Houston that the shuttle was fine.

The center’s assessments will be sent to Bryan O’Connor, the associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, who would use them to decide whether a project is ready to go forward.

Asked whether the safety center would have the authority to veto a shuttle launch, Bridges said: “Since we’re reporting directly to Mr. O’Connor, we feel like he will be carrying our vote at the table” at flight-readiness reviews.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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