Press Release

Mars Program Assessment Report Outlines Route to Success

By SpaceRef Editor
March 28, 2000
Filed under

Peggy Wilhide
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1898)



RELEASE: 00-46

An in-depth review of NASA’s Mars exploration program,
released today, found significant flaws in formulation and
execution led to the failures of recent missions, and
provides recommendations for future exploration of Mars.


NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin appointed Thomas
Young, a seasoned space-industry executive, to independently
assess current and future Mars programs. The Mars Program
Independent Assessment Team (MPIAT) started work on January
7, 2000, and delivered its final report to the Agency in mid-
March.


“I congratulate Tom Young and his team for a superb
report,” Goldin said today. “They have rigorously
scrutinized both successful and unsuccessful missions,
shining a searchlight into every corner of the incredibly
complex endeavor of deep space exploration. He and his team
have delivered an extraordinary report and I thank them on
behalf of NASA and the American people.”


“Speaking for the team, I would like to express my
appreciation for the spirit of cooperation that we enjoyed at
NASA Headquarters, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and at
Lockheed Martin,” Young said. “The managers, scientists and
engineers we spoke with were candid and frank in their
presentations and in their answers to our questions.
Everyone worked toward the same goal: finding ways to make
the Mars program successful.


“One of the things we kept in mind during the course of
our review is that in the conduct of space missions, you get
only one strike, not three. Even if thousands of functions
are carried out flawlessly, just one mistake can be
catastrophic to a mission,” Young said. “Our review
confirmed that mistakes can be prevented by applying
experienced oversight, sufficient testing, and independent
analysis.”


The team’s charter was to review and analyze successes
and failures of recent missions to determine why some
succeeded and some failed; examine the relationship between
and among NASA Headquarters, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), the California Institute of Technology and industry
partners; assess the involvement of scientists; identify
lessons learned from successes and failures; review the Mars
Surveyor Program to assure lessons learned are utilized;
oversee Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 failure reviews;
and evaluate the risk management process.


The report concluded the most probable cause of the
failure was the generation of spurious signals when the
lander legs were deployed during descent. The spurious
signals gave a false indication that the spacecraft had
landed, resulting in a premature shutdown of the engines and
the destruction of the lander when it crashed on Mars.


Without any entry, descent and landing telemetry data,
there is no way to know whether the lander reached the
terminal descent propulsion phase. If it did reach this
phase, it is almost certain that premature engine shutdown
occurred, the report concluded.


NASA’s Office of Space Science will develop an
integrated strategic response to the findings and
recommendations of the report. NASA Chief Engineer W. Brian
Keegan also will coordinate an integrated Agency response to
the recent reviews of NASA program management practices.


In addition, today, Dr. Edward Weiler, the Associate
Administrator for Space Science, announced the cancellation
of the planned Mars 2001 lander awaiting his approval of a
new overall Mars “architecture” plan. Weiler also will make
management changes in the Mars Exploration Program at NASA
Headquarters and work with the California Institute of
Technology to institute effective change at JPL, clearly
articulating lines of authority, clarifying roles and
improving communication between all organizations involved.
In that regard, Weiler today appointed Scott Hubbard as the
Mars Program Director at NASA Headquarters. Hubbard is now
Associate Director for Astrobiology and Space Programs, NASA
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.


The MPIAT report findings included:

  • Mars exploration is an important national goal that should
    continue.

  • Deep space exploration is inherently challenging, but the
    risks are manageable and acceptable.

  • NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and U.S.
    industry have the unique capabilities required to conduct
    successful planetary and deep space missions.

  • NASA’s “faster, better, cheaper” approach, properly
    applied, should be continued as an effective means of guiding
    program implementation.

  • There were significant flaws in the formulation and
    execution of the Mars program, but all of the problems
    uncovered are correctable in a timely manner to allow a
    comprehensive Mars exploration program to continue
    successfully.


The MPIAT report found common characteristics among both
successful and unsuccessful missions:

  • Experienced project management or mentoring is essential.
  • Project management must be responsible and accountable for
    all aspects of mission success.

  • Unique constraints of deep space missions demand adequate
    margins.

  • Appropriate application of institutional expertise is
    critical for mission success.

  • A thorough test and verification program is essential for
    mission success.

  • Effective risk identification and management are critical
    to assure successful missions.

  • Institutional management must be accountable for policies
    and procedures that assure a high level of success.

  • Institutional management must assure project
    implementation consistent with required policies and
    procedures.

  • Telemetry coverage of critical events is necessary for
    analysis and ability to incorporate information in follow-on
    projects.

  • If not ready, do not launch.

SpaceRef staff editor.