NASA defends failures

NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said he blames himself for failures that may

have resulted from his trademark "faster, better, cheaper" approach.

He called failures such as the loss of two Mars exploration spacecraft

in 1999 "acceptable," but said he is at fault for not setting parameters

for faster, better, cheaper and not explaining "failure."

"Good people were violating good common sense," Goldin told a House appropriations

subcommittee March 15. During a hearing to defend the space agency's 2001

budget request, Goldin responded to criticism that faster, better, cheaper,

which involves cutting-edge information technology, may not always be the

best method. Two reports released March 13 call on NASA to keep the philosophy

but strengthen the people, processes and technology used to carry it out.

When problems arise, such as the miscommunication that caused the loss of

the Mars Climate Orbiter or the project management and software problems

that may have led to the loss of the Mars Polar Lander, the agency should

allocate more resources, reduce requirements or cancel the program, Goldin

said. "Faster, better, cheaper is sound.... [But] I've pushed the limits,

and now we need to back off."

"The fact that we pushed the limits and had some failures is OK," Goldin

told the subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development,

and Independent Agencies. "Now we need to teach people how to manage cost

and schedule."

An independent assessment of the Mars mishaps will be released this month.

An independent evaluation of recent safety problems on the space shuttle

was released March 9.

In response to agency and independent reports, Goldin has appointed

NASA chief engineer Brian Keegan to integrate the findings and deliver a

plan to change NASA's operating procedures. Those recommendations are expected

this summer.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) noted that the loss of both Mars spacecraft

was partially attributed to failures in software and spacecraft validation.

NASA plans to integrate its NASA Ames Research Center Software Independent

Validation and Verification Facility in Fairmont, W.Va., with the rest of

its programs, Goldin said.

NASA's 2001 request includes an extra $350 million for Mars exploration.

MORE INFO

Reports exploring NASA's approach to spacecraft and shuttle missionsprovide the following key recommendations:

* Acquire, motivate and keep top-notch people to adequately staff projects.

* Assign realistic costs.

* Assign responsibility to key officials.

* Invest in developing innovative technology that will reduce long-termrisk.

* Move aggressively on IT development by forming an agencywide IT program.

BY Paula Shaki Trimble
Mar. 20, 2000

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