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nasa's software safety standardNASA relies more and more on software to control, monitor, and verify its safety critical systems, facilities and operations. Since the 1960's there has hardly been a spacecraft launched that does not have a computer on board that will provide command and control services. There have been recent incidents where software has played a role in high-profile mission failures and hazardous incidents. For example, the Mars Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, the DART (Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology), and MER (Mars Exploration Rover) Spirit anomalies were all caused or contributed to by software. The Mission Control Centers for the Shuttle, ISS, and unmanned programs are highly dependant on software for data displays, analysis, and mission planning. Despite this growing dependence on software control and monitoring, there has been little to no consistent application of software safety practices and methodology to NASA's projects with safety critical software. Meanwhile, academia and private industry have been stepping forward with procedures and standards for safety critical systems and software, for example Dr. Nancy Leveson's book Safeware: System Safety and Computers. The NASA Software Safety Standard, originally published in 1997, was widely ignored due to its complexity and poor organization. It also focused on concepts rather than definite procedural requirements organized around a software project lifecycle. Led by NASA Headquarters Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, the NASA Software Safety Standard has recently undergone a significant update. This new standard provides the procedures and guidelines for evaluating a project for safety criticality and then lays out the minimum project lifecycle requirements to assure the software is created, operated, and maintained in the safest possible manner. This update of the standard clearly delineates the minimum set of software safety requirements for a project without detailing the implementation for those requirements. This allows the projects leeway to meet these requirements in many forms that best suit a particular project's needs and safety risk. In other words, it tells the project what to do, not how to do it. This update also incorporated advances in the state of the practice of software safety from academia and private industry. It addresses some of the more common issues now facing software developers in the NASA environment such as the use of Commercial-Off-the-Shelf Software (COTS), Modified OTS (MOTS), Government OTS (GOTS), and reused software. A team from across NASA developed the update and it has had both NASA-wide internal reviews by software engineering, quality, safety, and project management. It has also had expert external review. This presentation and paper will discuss the new NASA Software Safety Standard, its organization, and key features. It will start with a brief discussion of some NASA mission failures and incidents that had software as one of their root causes. It will then give a brief overview of the NASA Software Safety Process. This will include an overview of the key personnel responsibilities and functions that must be performed for safety-critical software.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Ramsay, Christopher M.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2007
Subject Category
Computer Programming and Software
Meeting Information
1st IAASS Conference(Nice)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.