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 U.S. House of Representatives 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 with the rest of its programs, Goldin said.

NASA's 2001 request includes an extra $350 million for Mars exploration.Smarter, faster, better, cheaper Reports exploring NASA's approach to spacecraft and shuttle missions provide 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-term risk.

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

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