Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Sciences

First Advisor

James Casler


In 2014 The commercial space company, Scaled Composites, suffered a catastrophic event during a test flight, killing one astronaut. Several recommendations for the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Commercial Space Transportation emerged from the National Transportation Safety Board. One recommendation was the introduction of a safety management system (SMS) as a safety protocol and became the genesis of this research project. This study has two purposes. The first purpose is to investigate whether the attributes of safety management system theory (SMST) exist in commercial space organizations. The second purpose is to explore the characteristics of high reliability theory (HRT) to determine whether they occur in SMS organizations in the airline industry. The attributes of HRT exist in some high-risk organizations.

An exploratory, sequential, mixed-method study was performed using grounded theory and the Delphi methodology. A survey, the Organizational Safety Attribute Awareness Survey, was developed, combining the SMS theory-based survey with the HRT questions used in this study. Two demographic questions were used to determine whether one’s role in the organization or the length of time in the industry impacted perceptions of SMS and HRT attributes.

Structural modeling produced an acceptable SMS survey model. Independent t-test results between commercial space and airline participants show promising acceptance levels for three of the four SMST elements. Results showed that participants from the commercial space organization had higher mean values for the attributes of SMST. Further, results suggested similar outcomes with the characteristics of HRT in participants from the airline industry. The practical implications of this research are twofold. First, understanding the degree of organizational members’ awareness of SMS attributes will allow for the focused implementation of the program with resources targeted to areas that require more attention. Second, by highlighting the recognition of HRT in an SMS environment, current safety awareness may be enhanced and include additional safety tools aimed at increasing overall organizational safety.