Jon Collins

Dr. Jon Collins was a licensed professional engineer, safety engineer, and quality engineer in the State of California.  For more than 50 years Jon contributed to the development and application of technical approaches for risk analysis and effective risk management to foster safe access to space.
His efforts have spanned launch and reentry safety, explosive safety, risk measures, acceptable risk criteria and related fields.During his career Jon made numerous contributions to fostering space safety.  He wrote numerous technical papers and reports on technical approaches to space safety and acceptable risk issues, including guideline documents for U.S. and overseas agencies. Jon was a technical innovator, a leader, a teacher and a mentor to those who had the privilege of working with him over the years.

Jon Collins was born to David and Mary Collins on 1935 in Flint, Michigan. Jon had an older brother, Jim, who was also quite sharp and ambitious, later becoming a district court judge. At a young age Jon had a great interest in art and aeronautics, building many model airplanes throughout his childhood. In high school he dabbled in architecture, taking two years of drawing.
Being his worst critic, he felt he didn't have enough of the natural ability to be successful in that field of architecture, so lucky for the industry, Jon ventured into aeronautical engineering.Under the Regents Alumni scholarship, Jon attended University of Michigan from 1952-1957, hitting the ground running with courses and ultimately a degree in aeronautical engineering.
He was also very active in college activities, becoming the Vice President of the Men’s Union, a Residence Adviser in the dormitory and a member of the Falcons, an organization for high achievers.In the fall of 1955 (his 3rd year) at the University of Michigan, Jon met and started dating Nancy Witham who at the time was pursuing a degree in music education and psychology.
Nancy and Jon were married in June 1957 in Denver. Nancy had moved there after graduating, and Jon followed close behind – determined to marry this girl!While in Denver, Jon pursued a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado. He started his engineering career in Denver at Martin Company, an aerospace firm.
It was there that he impressed the firm by creating a mathematical model that could predict what would happen to an exploding rocket. This was Jon’s first foray into risk analysis. He loved it, and the rest is history. Jon and Nancy later moved to the Los Angeles area where Jon continued to work in the field of aerospace at TRW. He simultaneously attended UCLA at night, receiving his PhD in aerospace engineering in 1967 at the age of 35. (His dissertation topic was “The Eigenvalue problem for systems with statistical properties”)By this time Jon and Nancy were also raising four children – three sons and daughter.
Jon started teaching statistics and operations research at Northrop University in 1966.  As a result of his passion for teaching, Jon continued to teach, first at the Universities and then special courses in Range Safety under the auspices of various U.S. National Ranges and on behalf of the IAASS. In 1960, Jon joined TRW. As Section Head of a Dynamics Department, Jon led his staff in research in probabilistic applications in dynamics and mechanics.

Among his achievements in this position were directing the development of mathematical models and performing analyses for launch and reentry safety including reentry of the Apollo Service module and flight safety for several missile weapons systems including a test of operational based launches from inland sites of the Minuteman missile.Eager to extend the application of his ideas to a broader arena in 1969, Jon Collins departed from the security of a job in TRW to work with John Wiggins in a fledgling firm that was pioneering the application of principles of risk analysis to engineering.
As Vice President and Technical Director of the J. H. Wiggins Company, he continued to lead pioneering developments in probabilistic analysis and began to assemble what would become an outstanding cadre of range safety modelers and analysts.Jon’s first major Range Safety client was Vandenberg Air Force Base. Jon introduced the concept of a debris footprint – first for debris flight safety modeling and then for real-time displays.
Jon pioneered a concept for suborbital flight trajectories that allowed a range user to minimize the risk within the constraints of his mission objectives. Jon developed a methodology for evaluating the risk to launch complexes. During this time Jon persuaded NASA of the importance of a flight safety risk analysis for the new Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle); the company then performed an innovative risk analysis for STS.He performed extensive analyses of the effects of explosions, evaluating glass breakage hazards and structural response due to the shockwaves, determining the trajectories and impact distribution of burning and non-burning debris and determining the probabilities of events leading to explosions.

In 1982 Jon decided to strike out on his own, leaving the JH Wiggins Company and starting his own consulting business.  Over the next few years, Jon and his partner Jim Hudson began to build a new firm that specialized in risk analysis: ACTA Inc.  The focus of the new firm was assuring that the pathway to Space was a safe one by properly managing risks to populations on land, in airplanes and at sea.

For this purpose Jon recruited a talented staff that he led in pioneering the development of an approach to Space Safety that is becoming the International Standard for Launch and Reentry Safety.  Under Jon’s leadership ACTA has grown to serve most of the U.S. Launch Ranges, NASA, and the FAA’s Office of Commercial Transportation.  The caliber of the work at his firm has been recognized by other nations’ space agencies through their requests of ACTA to perform independent analyses to validate their own efforts.

Jon has been instrumental in establishing launch and reentry safety risk analysis methodologies throughout the United States. Jon was a primary author of the U.S. Department of Transportation foundational report on “Hazard Analysis of Commercial Space Transportation.”
He was a primary author of the comprehensive Flight Safety Analysis Handbook soon to be published by the FAA.  He was the author of the majority of the material that now constitutes the Flight Safety Code published by the Commonwealth of Australia Space Licensing and Safety Office (SLASO). He was a leading contributor in the development of US Air Force requirements for space safety, such as EWR 127-1 and AFSPCMAN 91-710.Jon promoted the exchange of the best of technology and the development of common risk analysis methods, risk measures, and criteria for many years.  He was a key member of the working group that initiated the alignment of practices at the U.S. Eastern and Western Ranges.
He was an active participant in the U.S. Range Commanders Council committee that has established a common basis for risk analysis and risk acceptability determination in the United States. As a member of the Risk Committee, Jon made many important contributions.
A few of the more important ones follow:In the beginning there was a significant portion of the U.S. Range community who thought it was sufficient to assure that the maximum individual risk was limited.
Jon was responsible for educating this group so that they could understand that collective or societal risk limits, expressed as casualty expectation, were required to assure that hazardous activities were not conducted in the proximity of heavily populated areas.During the early years of the U.S. Space Shuttle, Jon was instrumental in assuring that NASA in its desire to publicize the spectacular achievement of the STS program still paid attention to the risk to the public who eagerly sought the opportunity to watch a launch.
He discovered that key decision makers found it difficult to comprehend the concept of casualty expectation, particularly when the values were large.
Risk profiles developed by ACTA conveyed the information in a way that high level decision makers could understand.  The statistical concept of casualty expectation was replaced with a simple graph showing the probability of one or more casualties, two or more casualties, and so forth.  They could understand that the reason the mission was risky was there was a relatively low probability of very large numbers of people being injured.

Jon went on to show the Risk Committee how these risk profiles were an excellent tool for understanding catastrophic loss potential and communicating societal risk.Jon’s next important insight was that launch safety risk analysts were using codes that ranged from simplistic heuristic algorithms to high-fidelity physics based models.  Moreover, the data they employed in the analysis had an enormous range in fidelity.  Yet, the results of these analyses were all treated the same.  Jon proceeded to develop an approach for quantifying the uncertainty in the assessment of casualty expectation.  He further developed a procedure for including this assessment in the decision process.  Jon’s work on uncertainty is now part of the RCC 321 Standard.Every bit as important as Jon’s own achievements is his legacy.
Through his leadership, his teaching and his inspiration Jon nurtured a generation to carry on the traditions for Space Safety he established.  His commitment continues to be that Space Safety is bigger than any one person.  His aspiration has been that others will have the commitment and inspiration to allow Space Faring Nations to explore new frontiers safely and assure the safety of the communities on Earth. Jon Collins was a Fellow Member of IAASS.

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