NASA, Lockheed failures examined
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Apr 13, 2000
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
"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.