|NASA IN QUESTION|
April 14, 2000
SPOKESPERSON: Three, two, one. We have ignition. We have liftoff of the Delta II rocket, carrying the Mars Polar Lander...
JEFFREY KAYE: In January 1999, a NASA rocket lifted off, carrying a spacecraft and science payload that were supposed to land on Mars. Instead the mission resulted in congressional hearings, investigations into the management of NASA, and unprecedented scrutiny of NASA's philosophy of "faster, better, cheaper," meaning more missions, at lower costs. The criticism mounted late last year, when, to the dismay of anxious officials, engineers, and scientists, radio signals from the Mars Polar Lander never came from the Martian surface. Project manager Richard Cook announced that the mission had ended in failure.
RICHARD COOKE, Mars Project Manager, JPL: The Mars Polar Lander flight team played its last ace this evening.
JEFFREY KAYE: The Lander's failure came two and a half months after the loss of another mars mission, a spacecraft that was supposed to orbit the red planet. The failed missions together cost $285 million. A comprehensive report, commissioned by NASA, criticized the management, testing, and funding of the Mars projects. A. Thomas Young, a retired aerospace and NASA executive, chaired the team that wrote the report.
A. THOMAS YOUNG, Chairman, Mars Program Review Board: Our conclusion was that the total program, meaning the Orbiter and the Lander, was under funded by at least 30%.
JEFFREY KAYE: And had they had that funding, what would they have been able to do better?
A. THOMAS YOUNG: Well, they would have done several things better. One of the things they would have done better was they would have staffed the program better. And then there's some testing that could have been done, would have strengthened the program.
JEFFREY KAYE: The emphasis on reduced costs for the mars missions compromised sound engineering, admits Edward Weiler, who heads NASA's space science division.
EDWARD WEILER, Assoc. Administrator, NASA: We pushed too hard on cost. And because we pushed too hard on cost, we forgot the "better" part of "faster, better, cheaper." Apparently decisions were being made back in the mid... Late 1990's that were not necessarily the best engineering decisions, and were made because people were trying to emphasize keeping within the cost cap.
JEFFREY KAYE: NASA set the cost limits for the failed Mars projects in 1994. The following year, Lockheed-Martin, near Denver, Colorado, won the contract to develop and build both the Orbiter and the Lander. The company submitted a low bid that NASA administrator Daniel Goldin now criticizes.
DANIEL GOLDIN, Administrator, NASA: I think in this circumstance that the Lockheed-Martin team was overly aggressive, because their focus was on the winning. The Lockheed-Martin Company did not pay attention, and I know it sounds like a paradox, but it was more important to them to win for today, and they didn't think of the long-term future or the reputation of their company.
JEFFREY KAYE: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California was responsible for managing the Mars missions, as well as other programs for NASA. JPL's John McNamee oversaw the failed mars projects, and warned NASA they were under- funded.
JOHN McNAMEE, Mars '98 Project Manager, JPL: I thought perhaps we needed about... I think $19 million was identified as additional money required to do the project in a fairly traditional faster, better, cheaper way. Otherwise we would have to cut the, you know, workforce to the bone, and perhaps take a little bit more risk. And that presentation was made to headquarters in September of 1994.
JEFFREY KAYE: NASA rejected McNamee's request. But nonetheless, McNamee proceeded, believing the missions would succeed. At Lockheed-Martin, the under- funding and short staffing took their toll. Personnel working on the two spacecraft put in 70- and 80- hour weeks. Edward Euler ran the missions. Steve Jolly was an engineer on the Orbiter, and Lad Curtis, an engineer on the Lander.
EDWARD EULER, Project Manager, Lockheed Martin: We ran out of time and... and we were... We were pretty strung out with the people. Steve, would you like to comment on that?
STEVE JOLLY, Engineer, Lockheed Martin: Yeah, I would agree with... with that point of view. The problem is... In the short vehicle development, everything's happening concurrently, and there's a lot of things that... That come up at the end that begin to swamp you, and that's what began to happen to us, as it began to get more and more difficult as we approached launch, doing two vehicles, where we would have normally done, maybe, one with the same crew.
JEFFREY KAYE: JPL was also spread thin. NASA had multiplied its workload. Instead of managing four to five missions a year, JPL was supervising ten to 15. Lab Director Edward Stone says the funding was inadequate to properly staff the Mars projects.
ED STONE, Director, JPL: We were just too fragile, in a sense of not enough people working on the project, and so the problem is, that people make mistakes. It's the reason you have a backspace on your computer terminals, when you make a mistake. People make mistakes, and what we need are the checks and balances.
JEFFREY KAYE: The mistakes proved to be fatal. The Mars climate orbiter probably burned up in the Martian atmosphere because technicians at Lockheed-Martin and at JPL used different units of measurement for navigation. Lockheed-Martin transmitted English units to JPL engineers, who thought they were getting metric units. The Mars Polar Lander failed most likely, according to engineers, because the engines that were supposed to slow it during landing shut off prematurely, causing it to crash. Reports after both incidents reached similar conclusions: Lockheed-Martin's staffing and testing was inadequate; JPL did not adequately monitor the company. For example, investigators found only after the Lander's launch that the its descent engines were subject to freezing. Reviewers also criticized the project's managers for not installing communications devices to monitor the Lander's touchdown.
A. THOMAS YOUNG; Not having the telemetry or the communications, during entry, really prevents you from knowing the health of the vehicle as it went through. And this is, in our view, a major, you know, a major problem not having the telemetry, because it precludes you being able to analyze the Mars Polar Lander data, and based on what you learned from it, being able to reflect that knowledge into future missions.
JEFFREY KAYE: Following the release of the young report, NASA administrator Goldin addressed what turned into a pep rally at JPL.
DANIEL GOLDIN: I pushed too hard... And in so doing, stretched the system too thin. It wasn't intentional, it wasn't malicious. I believed in the vision, but it may have made some failure inevitable. I salute the team's conviction and courage. And make no mistake, they need not apologize to anyone. They did not fail alone. As the head of NASA, I accept the responsibility.
JEFFREY KAYE: But while Goldin acknowledged management weaknesses at NASA, in a "NewsHour" interview this week, the NASA administrator suggested a major cause of the failures rests with the contractor, Lockheed-Martin.
SPOKESMAN: The NASA administrator stepped up and told the world, "I accept full responsibility for what happened." There is a very, very deafening silence, from the senior executives at the Lockheed- Martin company, accepting the fact that they did not provide the guidance and the review of that proposal. I believe that the Lockheed- Martin management at the senior levels did not take ownership of this program.
JEFFREY KAYE: As a result of the failures, Lockheed-Martin will not make a profit on the Mars projects. But company officials resent any implication that they took undue or unknown risks.
EDWARD EULER, Project Manager, Lockheed Martin: There was nothing ever hidden, or anything that anybody ever came out with that wasn't known from the beginning of the program on.
JEFFREY KAYE: When you say, "wasn't known," wasn't known to whom?
EDWARD EULER: To the review boards, and the appropriate people, that sort of, were trying to give us an independent review.
JEFFREY KAYE: But, JPL....
EDWARD EULER: Definitely J.P.L.
JEFFREY KAYE: As you were moving along, J.P.L. Was aware of it?
EDWARD EULER: That's right. And as... And ... they conveyed that information to headquarters.
JEFFREY KAYE: Engineers say they truly believed the missions would succeed.
LAD CURTIS, Engineer, Lockheed Martin: When you hear the launch conversation-- if you listened in to any of the launches-- the launch director polls all the subsystems experts: "Are you go for launch?" It's very personal. And it makes you sweat when you get asked that question. And our folks all said, "yes, we believe this is ready for launch. It's going to succeed."
JEFFREY KAYE: The Mars failures, together with other problems at NASA, have caused concern in congress. Senator Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the subcommittee on science, technology, and space, feels there are fundamental problems with NASA's approach.
SEN. BILL FRIST, (R) Tennessee: Faster, better, cheaper, the way it is being implemented today, to my mind is not satisfactorily working. I believe it's unacceptable to the American people. I say that in part as a legislator, but also as an American, where I believe NASA is... is losing the faith, losing the faith, losing the confidence of the American people.
JEFFREY KAYE: Frist is considering proposals to better monitor NASA. For their part, NASA officials have already announced they will scale back plans, in particular, the launch originally scheduled for next year of another Mars Lander built by Lockheed-Martin, will be postponed indefinitely.
EDWARD WEILER: Do I want to launch that? Do I want...do I want to waste that Delta Launch vehicle? Do I want to waste those science instruments and half of the avionics or whatever we'll be able to use? And to me it was - I hate to admit it-- but it was a no- brainer. I didn't see any justification to go ahead with that mission.
JEFFREY KAYE: Lockheed engineers disagree with NASA. They say the delay is unnecessary.
EDWARD EULER: I personally think that we had the confidence that that Lander would have worked properly. I know I certainly feel that way because it is the design that myself and...and our team did, and we... We still have a very strong feeling that it was a good design, and one that would work properly, if we could have got these little bugs out.
JEFFREY KAYE: Since the failures, NASA officials in Washington have assumed more control over its contractors and managers. And they say they will improve communications and training. Space officials are also quick to contrast NASA's failures with successes, such as the 1997 "Pathfinder" Lander and its robotic Rover. The cost of the Pathfinder about equaled the total for both the failed Mars Orbiter and Mars Lander. JPL's John McNamee says the public needs to appreciate the risks inherent in successful space exploration.
JOHN McNAMEE: The complexity of these missions is unbelievable. It's not surprising, uh, that we have a failure every now and then. It's surprising that they work at all in my mind. It's just so complex, so many interactions, so much that has to go right, and you're allowed one mistake, and that can end the mission.
JEFFREY KAYE: To minimize the risk of failure of future Mars Landers, NASA plans to launch satellites around the planet. Scheduled to launch next year is another Lockheed Martin project, the Mars 2001 Orbiter, which intended to map the planet's surface and provide a communications link for future missions.