Committee seeks reports on Mars probe tests

Committee seeks reports on Mars probe tests

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

MARCH 30—The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee is demanding all NASA testing reports on the Mars Polar Lander mission's propulsion system.

The request augments the latest controversy to enter the agency's orbit since two investigating panels said that human error compounded by mismanagement doomed two Mars missions last year.

Meanwhile, NASA on Tuesday named Scott Hubbard to be director of the Mars Program , for the first time putting a single individual in charge of that area of exploration.

Internal and external reports detailed a number of problems in the planning, design and execution of the Mars missions. The disappearance of the Mars Climate Orbiter last September appears to have been caused by a single line of code in the Orbiter's Small Soldiers trajectory modeling software.

The reports maintain that Lockheed Martin Corp. supplied NASA with English units rather than metric for the software coding, which produced computational errors that either sent the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter project spinning into space or caused it to disintegrate in Mars' atmosphere.

A later mission consisting of the Mars Polar Lander and two deep space probes failed in December because of inadequate testing, the reports said.

Thomas Young, a former NASA official and retired Lockheed Martin executive who chaired the panel reviewing the Mars program, noted in the report that the project suffered several management mistakes, including improper testing.

"My initial view of the Young report on the Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 missions confirms my belief that NASA senior management is missing in action," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the committee. "This report is an embarrassment to the agency."


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