NASA, Lockheed failures examined

The latest in a series of discussions about NASA's Mars exploration program

points to unnecessary risks and poor management by NASA and contractor Lockheed

Martin Corp.

"It's not our job or our intent to try to run NASA from Capitol Hill," Rep.

F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said in his opening statement Wednesday

during a House Science Committee hearing. "After reading these reports,

I was left to wonder who was managing them."

Independent and internal assessments of the recent failures of the Mars

Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander spacecraft referred to a lack

of funding to adequately staff and engineer the missions. But simply throwing

more money or people at the problem will not fix NASA's overall management

problems, Sensenbrenner said.

Software played a considerable part in failing to catch problems early on

that could have prevented the failure of both spacecraft.

"The two mistakes [that caused failure of the missions] were mistakes made

at Lockheed Martin," said Thomas Young, a retired Lockheed Martin executive

vice president. Young headed the Mars Program Independent Assessment team,

which submitted its report to NASA March 14.

For the Mars Climate Orbiter, an error was made in the ground software program

that indicates the spacecraft's velocity increment, said John Casani, chairman

of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's internal review board on the Mars

failures. Nearly six months before the orbiter's scheduled arrival at Mars,

the navigational team recognized discrepancies in measurements, which weren't

converted from English to metric units, Casani said. The proper process

was not carried out to identify and rectify the problem, he said.

Lockheed, which was awarded a performance-based contract for the Mars Climate

Orbiter, did not receive any payment for the mission.

For the Mars Polar Lander mission, software was not developed that could

detect false signals, which mistakenly indicated the spacecraft was descending

to Mars properly. Mars Polar Lander project managers at JPL and Lockheed

Martin also decided that because of funding constraints, telemetry communications

with the lander would not be made during its descent to Mars, Young said.

Sensenbrenner said he plans to hear NASA Admininistrator Dan Goldin's testimony

on the subject during a hearing next month on future Mars missions.

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