When: Feb 29 @ 4:00 PM
Where: Online

NASA’s rescue effort for the Apollo 13 astronauts promulgated the phrase, “failure is not an option.” However, five decades have passed; times and technology have changed. Many successes and failures have occurred over this time for high-profile, complex system development and operational programs, aerospace, and otherwise.

In 2024, is failure an option or not? Is there a free pass for attempting something very new and challenging that results in failure? Or is failure still a limiting prospect for future opportunities? Well, it depends!

Stakeholders and individuals tend to have trouble navigating the concept of acceptable risk. A poorly conceived and articulated acceptable risk framework often yields untoward results and/or varied perception of outcomes. Tolerance of risk may evolve unfavorably over the life cycle of a program.

This talk will address the concept of acceptable risk and its application within a robust risk management process. Case studies, lessons learned, and actionable best practices will be highlighted for participants.


Richard M. Day, former NASA senior executive at Goddard Space Flight Center, led nationwide teams in the development of state-of-the-art space systems. He was instrumental in developing the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) which Science magazine called a “Breakthrough of 2003.” In 2012, Stephen Hawking told New Scientist magazine that “WMAP’s evidence for inflation was the most exciting development in physics during his career.”

Day was the first director of systems management as well as mission success with oversight for the entire portfolio of Goddard space programs. His dedication to promoting rigor in program management, systems engineering, safety, and mission assurance permeated all NASA programs. The U.S. Presidential Rank Award for Senior Executive Service, the NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal are among his various individual and team honors.

After the Columbia Space Shuttle accident, he was appointed to lead organizational governance and end-to-end operations to enable engineers, safety/quality inspectors, and medical authorities to make risk-informed decisions, with ability to escalate dissenting opinions to the highest levels. He recruited the first Chief Knowledge Officer, a role now institutionalized across NASA.

Day co-chaired the Steering Committee for Mission Assurance Improvement among the major U.S. space agencies and aerospace corporations during his tenure as chief of mission assurance for civilian and national security space programs at The JHU Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). He also served as APL deputy chief quality officer for all the diverse mission areas of the Laboratory serving strategic national priorities. Day created and actively teaches an innovative graduate-level systems engineering course for WSE’s Engineering for Professionals program on high-reliability, mission assurance, and engineering leadership to achieve mission success.