NASA Airs Plan to Congress

WASHINGTON (06/21/2000) - The House Science Committee revisited NASA's failed Mars missions during a hearing Tuesday, placing emphasis on NASA's management of large projects and its testing of hardware and software.

NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and Ed Stone, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, outlined new initiatives that are intended to improve the quality of software, independent verification and validation and software research and plans to centralize Mars program management.

Stone outlined several reorganizations at JPL, which manages the Mars program for NASA. The reorganizations are designed to improve personnel management that led to the failure to catch and report problems with the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander. JPL created:

* A Mars program office.

* A directorate for space science flight projects.

* A systems management office for independent assessment of requirements stability and risk.

* Review teams to identify any remaining risks.

* Core project teams for each mission.

* A mission assurance team to perform independent assessments of policies, procedures and guidelines.

In addition, NASA plans to require all of its facilities to reach Level 3 of the Carnegie Mellon software Capability Maturity Model.

The committee's chairman, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.

(Republican-Wisconsin), stressed that NASA should not be reinvented but rather should return to successful models using the faster, better, cheaper philosophy that have proven successful in the past, such as the Mars Pathfinder and Clementine missions.

"They want to add more bureaucracy, spend more money and do more oversight of each mission," Sensenbrenner said. "That is a copout. Faster, better, cheaper works."

Pedro Rustan, a retired Air Force colonel, expressed concern about NASA's decentralized management and inability to revise early cost estimates. Rustan urged NASA address the need for adequate reconnaissance and communications infrastructure around Mars, better navigation technologies and more adaptive controls that respond to hazards and make the ultimate goal to put a human on Mars.

"There is no magic with faster, better, cheaper. It is just common sense," Rustan said. "If the processes and culture are not fixed, and if the correct people are not chosen to lead programs, more money will not help."

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