WASHINGTON (04/18/2000) - 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 Martin Corp.
"It's not our job or our intent to try to run NASA from Capitol Hill," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisconsin) in his opening statement last week 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 (JPL) 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 that 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.