NASA is forming a new safety team with clout in reaction to the space shuttle Columbia disaster, according to press reports. The mission is clear: prevent a repeat of the Columbia tragedy. NASA’s intent: Force its managers to listen to safety concerns.

NASA's poor management is as much to blame for the Columbia accident as the piece of foam debris that hit the wing, according to investigators.

Here’s the kind of muscle NASA is now putting into safety:

• Former director of the Kennedy Space Center, Roy Bridges, will lead the team.

• The safety team is to be based at NASA's Flight Center in Langley, Va. — the same place where NASA engineers wrote e-mails expressing concerns during the Columbia mission.

• Mission Control won't be able to ignore or sweep aside safety concerns. Bridges' team will have the power to shut down an operation that hasn't been proven safe.

• The team will also be able to demand a further study of problems during a shuttle mission, such as the debris that hit Columbia's wing. In that case, the mission management team accepted a flawed analysis that said the hit was not a safety problem.

Accident investigators said NASA has given lip service — but no real power — to safety officials.

Forming the new safety team is one step on the way to launching the shuttle again. An internal timeline NASA has prepared shows the tentative launch date as March 11, 2004.