Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Mars assessment team returns to JPL
Posted: Feb. 5, 2000

  Mars '98 missions
Artist's concept of the two Mars '98 missions: Climate Orbiter and Polar Lander. Photo: NASA/JPL
The Mars Program Independent Assessment Team, appointed by NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, returned to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, this week to continue its review of the Agency's program for the robotic exploration of Mars. The team, chaired by Thomas Young, is tasked with examining NASA's approach to future missions to Mars in light of the recent loss of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander.

The team spent two and one-half days meeting with JPL's senior managers and program officials. This week's trip focused on actions taken by JPL in response to an internal review of management practices and procedures and examination of the composition and structure of future missions to Mars. In order to hear from a larger number of engineers, scientists, and managers the team split into small groups then reconvened at the end to share what each member had learned.

"By hearing from more of the people who worked on these projects, we are able to obtain a broader view of how business has been conducted here at JPL," said Young. "This gives us a better understanding of the lessons learned from both the missions that were successful and those that were not."

Young added that JPL managers and technical experts at all levels have been very cooperative with the team and more than willing to share their opinions in a frank manner. "We are beginning to get a clearer picture of the processes in place at JPL, at Lockheed Martin and at NASA Headquarters," Young said.

The team's charter is to evaluate several recent successful and unsuccessful NASA missions to deep space, including Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, Deep Space 1 and Deep Space 2. It is reviewing the science objectives, budgets, schedules, management structure, and procedures in place for each of these missions. The review is being coupled with an assessment of how these factors affect mission safety, reliability and success.

The Independent Assessment Team began its work on Jan. 7, 2000, and is scheduled to complete its review and present the NASA Administrator with its findings in mid-March.

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