The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

Vol. 4, No. 5                  June 23, 2000

Faster, Better, Cheaper Receives Strong Endorsements

At the House Science Committeeäs hearing on NASAäs Mars Program, Part II (6/20/00), Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) launched a rhetorical broadside at the space agency. "Congress and the American people can all deal with failure," the Wisconsin Congressman pontificated. "We have a harder time accepting carelessness."

"The mission errors might be forgivable," Sensenbrenner explained. "Itäs NASAäs failure to deal with a known problem that bothers me."

Despite the managerial mistakes with the Mars missions, the Chairman fully endorsed the faster, better, cheaper (FBC) method for planetary exploration. "In the wake of these fiascoes," he huffed, "some have attacked the faster, cheaper, better philosophy. They want to add more bureaucracy. But thatäs a cop-out. Faster, better, cheaper works."

Congressman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) agreed FBC was a "good idea." He said we can "expect to have failures." But the Mars mission losses, he stated, were "stupid mistakes," errors that should have been discovered and corrected.

Four witnesses testified at the hearing. The NSS submitted written testimony at the committee's request (see document at the end of this report).

Daniel Goldin, NASA Administrator

"Rather than play the blame game," Mr. Goldin explained NASA was "focusing upon understanding the root causes" for the mission failures and taking steps to correct the deficiencies to achieve "higher levels of skill" in management and leadership. "Increased focus," he said, "will be place on ensuring technical competencies, cutting edge knowledge and formal academic training, as well as leadership skills."

Goldin again publicly accepted responsibility for the mission losses. He explained budgets for the missions were tight because he is seeking to reduce the cost for each planetary mission to about $100 million.

Minimal oversight was the intended purpose when NASA signed a "Total Systems Contract" with Lockheed Martin to build both the Mars orbiter and lander for $121 million. (The total does not include scientific instruments.) Goldin lamented some organizations are capable of handling such responsibility, while others ù meaning Lockheed Martin ù are not yet ready.

Goldin said he has not asked the Administration for additional funds to correct the

management weaknesses. "Money," he offered, "is not the magic ingredient." He explained managers often ask for more funds to complete a mission. How has the Administrator handled such requests? When people come to his office with their hands out, he confessed, "I throw them out on their heads."

To improve the Mars Program and prepare for an eventual human mission, Goldin said we "need new technologies for precision atmospheric entry, adaptive hazard avoidance capabilities, and robust safe landing systems." Also critical, he added, are improved imagery and better communications.

Edward Stone, Director Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Director Stone acknowledged JPL, in its reviews, did not believe the Mars missions were underfunded. He explained the "Mars 98 spacecraft were designed and developed by Lockheed Martin under a system contract, with minimal engagement of JPL expertise." In future missions, he assured Committee members, there would be "adequate engagement."

Stone announced a series of "key actions" JPL has implemented to prevent future problems. JPL formed a Mars Program Office with a Program Manager who reports directly to Stone. JPL formed a new directorate for Space Science Flight Projects to "focus exclusively on the successful implementation of space science flight projects." And a Systems Management Office was established to conduct independent mission assessments.

To pay for the additional oversight, Stone said he would use funds that had been allocated for the 2001 Mars lander, which was canceled.

Pedro Rustan, Space Consultant, Former Director of the Clementine Mission

"Speaking bluntly," Mr. Rustan offered, "I am stunned by the paucity of leadership demonstrated by the management teams involved in the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) and the Mars Polar Lander. Less management is not synonymous with no management."

JPL and Lockheed Martin were "well aware of the fact that there were navigation anomalies in the very early part of the flight to Mars." Mr. Rustan said there was plenty of time to diagnose and correct the problem. "Instead of solving the problem, both teams ignored it until the last few weeks of flight when the team finally requested an unscheduled propulsion burn in an attempt to correct the trajectory."

"A competent senior manager would have put together a tiger team to investigate the [anomalies] and take corrective action thus solving the problem. Instead, the MCO program managers at LM and JPL were reticent to report any bad news to their superiors, because all the funds for the program had been accounted for and any corrective action would require unavailable funds."

Rustan said there is "no magic in the FBC concept." "Quite plainly," he explained, "it is effective, streamlined management." But "mission success and system reliability must never be sacrificed under the FBC concept."

Rustan said NASA programs already require too many reviews, which often "rob critical time from the mission while adding little value." He also disagreed money was a solution. "Donät believe that dumping more money into a program will resolve most problems; it is quite the opposite," he explained. More money for more reviews or to add new capability after a design is finalized "is counterproductive."

Alan Binder, Lunar Research Institute Director, Lunar Prospector Principal Investigator

"I am both deeply concerned about ù and strongly disagree with ù the main conclusions presented in both the Young Report and Tony Spearäs NASA Faster, Better, Cheaper Task Force final report," Mr. Binder exclaimed. He said the "solutions" advocated by the reports ù more money, more oversight, and more management ù are wrong. The Lunar Prospector demonstrated that "inexpensive missions can be successfully defined, developed, and flown with an absolute minimum of both management and NASA oversight."

"If the Young and Spear recommendations are followed," Binder warned, "I firmly believe that we will have started down the slippery path back to the old, expensive, slow way of exploring space."

Binder said more money, more management and more oversight "does not insure mission success." As evidence, he pointed to the $800 million Mars Observer which suffered a catastrophic failure, the $3 billion Hubble Space Telescope with the flawed lens, and the stuck antenna on the $1.3 billion Galileo spacecraft.




By Pat Dasch

Executive Director

The National Space Society


Testimony for the House Committee on Science


NASAäs Mars Program After The Young Report: Part II

June 20, 2000


Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on NASAäs "faster, better, cheaper" (FBC) approach to the design and management of planetary spacecraft. This new approach for building space vehicles has come under review as a result of the recent failures of two Martian space probes. Last September, the Mars Climate Orbiter approached the Red Planet on the wrong trajectory because workers substituted U.S. linear measurements for metric measurements. Experts believe the craft flew too close to the planet and it either burned up in the atmosphere or crashed into the surface. The sister spacecraft ù the Mars Polar Lander ù entered the planetäs upper atmosphere on the proper trajectory in preparation for a soft landing near the south polar cap, but then something happened during the descent or while landing and contact was never reestablished.

The loss of the two spacecraft cost about $325 million. More important, however, is the loss of the science. The orbiter was designed to search for water on the planetäs surface, an important goal to determining whether life may have existed ù or continues to exist ù on Mars. The orbiter also was to have collected data on the thin Martian atmosphere to understand its climate history. The Polar Lander, had it survived, would have been the first craft to explore the southern hemisphere. The lander was equipped with a robotic arm to collect soil samples.

In the past, when a mission failed, years were required to recapture the lost science. Fortunately, this will not be the case with the Mars spacecraft. The scientific investigation of Mars is an ongoing program at NASA. Every 26 months, when Earth and Mars come into alignment, the United States plans to launch probes to explore the planet. In future flights, the scientific instruments designed for the lost orbiter and lander can be reflown to search for water and collect data on the Martian climate.

Following the mission failures, NASA appointed panels to investigate the Mars mission failures and to review the overall Mars Surveyor program and the "faster, better, cheaper" approach to designing and building spacecraft.

A "Faster, Better, Cheaper" NASA

When Daniel S. Goldin was appointed NASA Administrator in 1991, Americaäs space program was in a shambles. According to a General Accounting Office survey, the average NASA program was experiencing a 77% cost growth. The Space Station, announced in 1984, had been redesigned numerous times and was facing cancellation due to cost overruns and delays. The Space Shuttle repeatedly couldnät get off of the pad because of technical problems.

The new Administrator introduced a series of reforms to reduce the cost overruns and eliminate the delays. He downsized the workforce, eventually cutting 6,600 personnel, chopped wasteful spending, and shut down duplicative programs. Mr. Goldin also revised the agencyäs mission statement to reflect the end of the Cold War and the foreign policy changes triggered by the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

Reforms were also implemented in the space science program. When Mr. Goldin assumed the helm at NASA, the agency was building large and expensivespacecraft to explore the solar system. Because of the time and cost to build the space goliaths, NASA could afford but a limited number of missions. During the 1980s, the agency launched only two planetary probes ù Magellan to map Venus and Galileo to explore Jupiter.

Because "battleship galactica" spacecraft are so costly and time consuming to build, much is at stake. The mission becomes so immense that our nationäs prestige is put on the line. Consequently, engineers are reluctant to utilize newer technologies that are better and cheaper, but are also riskier. Finally, because NASA could afford to build and launch only a couple major spacecraft per decade, our educational institutions suffered. Scientists and graduate students had limited opportunities to study planetary science due to the large gaps between missions and a paucity of data.

To remedy the shortcomings in NASAäs space science program, Administrator Goldin introduced the "faster, better, cheaper" model, which has long been a mantra of private industry. Companies daily strive to achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace by designing and constructing better products, in less time, and for less cost. These goals are an ongoing challenge. Businesses cannot afford to rest on their laurels and constantly seek improvements to remain competitive.

With recent technological innovations and advances in miniaturization smaller, more frequent planetary missions to explore the solar system offer many advantages and can fulfil many, but not all scientific objectives. Smaller missions carry fewer scientific instruments and thus are less complex to design, use less power, and can be launched on smaller, lower-cost rockets. Mounting smaller missions means NASA can afford to send multiple spacecraft to explore bodies in the solar system. If a mission should fail, spacecraft can more easily be replaced. Small, less-complex missions are simpler to manage, can be completed in less time, and do not require extensive systems engineering and coordination among scientists.

The information gleaned from an initial mission can be used to focus research on subsequent missions, enhancing the quality of the science. And because there are numerous missions each year, a great deal of data is generated for analysis by scientists and graduate students. This, in turn, rapidly advances our knowledge of the solar system and keeps our educational institutions the very best in the world.

The managers of the Strategic Defense Initiative also were strong proponents of the "faster, better, cheaper" approach to reduce the cost of space access and spacecraft design. To provide a protective shield against a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, the United States would have to launch hundreds of spacecraft to orbit, a daunting and expensive challenge. The managers believed it was possible to build and launch probes for substantially less than proposed by industry. To demonstrate the new philosophy, the Naval Research Laboratory was allocated $75 million for the Clementine mission to the Moon. The vehicle was subsequently designed, developed and launched in just 22 months. The "quick and cheap" mission was successful and validated the new philosophy for

managing space programs.

NASAäs New Mission

NASA is a product of the Cold War, established to compete with the Soviet Union, which had successfully placed the first satellite in orbit, the first mammal in orbit, and launched the first rocket to the Moon. These achievements were widely reported by the world media and touted by Soviet leaders as evidence of the superiority of Communism.

Beating the Soviet Union in the race to space became a national priority for America. To best the Soviets, billions of dollars flowed into the space program. At its peak, NASA received about five percent of the federal budget.

Because a failure in the space program was viewed as a political defeat on the world stage, government officials placed a premium on mission success. Time also was a critical element. President Kennedy announced that Americans would land on the Moon by the end of the decade. It was imperative to move quickly to achieve this goal. Consequently, the cost to build and launch spacecraft, and the science to be gained from venturing into space, were of secondary concern.

Following the success of the Apollo program, Americaäs investment in space exploration declined dramatically. The focus of our foreign relations with the Soviet Union shifted from direct competition to detente. Instead of building more and bigger nuclear weapons, the superpowers entered into negotiations to limit the number of launchers and warheads.

Advances in space exploration remained politically charged. Although not directly competing in space to achieve a specific goal, the U.S. and U.S.S.R nevertheless were watchful of each otheräs space programs. The Soviet Union tried to match the Space Shuttle program by building a similar launch vehicle. The decision by the United States to build a space station was, inpart, an effort to keep up with the Soviet Union, which had been operating a station for many years.

When the Cold War ended, the political justification to support the expenditure of vast resources for space programs quickly evaporated. The collapse of the Soviet Union foreshadowed many changes for Americaäs space and defense industries. To reflect the dramatic reordering in the world map, Administrator Goldin called for a new mission statement for NASA. He engaged the space agencyäs entire workforce, encouraging everyone to submit recommendations. Given a new world order, should NASAäs priorities be altered? Was its mandate still relevant? How could NASA better serve Americaäs interests?

After many months of discussion and numerous drafts, NASA produced a new mission statement. At its most fundamental level, the statement declares that "NASA is an investment in Americaäs future." A major purpose of the agency is to conduct research and develop technology in partnership with industry and academia to maintain Americaäs economic growth and prosperity. In short, NASA is a technology driver. In addition to gaining new knowledge, a primary purpose for exploring the universe is to innovate new technologies to maintain Americaäs leadership in advanced technology.

Space presents unique challenges for engineers. Space is a formidable environment with extreme temperatures. Power on spacecraft is limited.

Designs must be highly reliable and guard against radiation. To withstand launch, systems must be rugged. Volume and weight must be kept to a minimum. To overcome all of these challenges requires engineers to seek different solutions than when solving technical problems on Earth. The process forces innovation and creativity. The new technologies developed for space programs,

in turn, are transferred to private industry to keep U.S. companies ahead of the competition. Applying the "faster, better, cheaper" model to space creates a dynamic process for improvement, to build vehicles smaller and faster, which are more capable and affordable. It is an incubator for new ideas and new ways of doing business. By exploring space, we assist companies on Earth.

"Faster, Better, Cheaper" Keeps America Competitive

As recent investigations have proved NASAäs "faster, better, cheaper" lacks a universally accepted definition but the space science FBC program has been managed to promote the development of advanced technology. Engineers are provided reduced levels of funding and smaller launchers for subsequent missions in the Mars program. Engineers must then come up with new solutions to meet the mission requirements. The process forces innovation and drives the development of advanced technologies. Finding new ways to dramatically lower the cost of space exploration allows NASA to mount additional missions for less money. Reducing timetables cuts costs and speeds exploration. More missions translate to more data for study by our scientists and graduate students, keeping our universities the best in the world.

As currently configured, mission success is no longer the only goal of planetary exploration, as in the past when each launch of a payload was politically important to Americaäs national security. As Administrator Goldin explains, if there are no failures in planetary exploration, not enough pressure is being applied to force the development of newer, better technologies. He said, out of ten potential flights, one to two failures would be tolerable.

Given NASAäs new mission, it is critical to push the envelope, to think out of the box, to have the freedom to fail. Americaäs ongoing investment in the Mars Surveyor program will reap enormous benefits. We will learn if life may have existed on Mars or continues to exist. We will learn about the Red Planetäs history and climate. Billions of years ago, Earth and Mars had warm, wet climates. Today, Mars is cold with a thin atmosphere. What happened? By understanding why the climate of Mars changed, we will be able to better understand Earthäs complex climate system.

By using the "faster, better, cheaper" model to design and build spacecraft, we will force the development of new technologies to reduce the cost of space science and keep America competitive. We will ensure our children have opportunities in the future and that our country generates sufficient wealth to afford our social programs and to protect our national security. But this approach will only be successful if the space agency has a first rate research and development program to initiate and develop work on the new technologies (a new instrument or penetrator should not need to be selected for flight in order to attract serious development funding), and adheres closely to engineering fundamentals.

The Pathfinder mission to Mars is an excellent example of the "faster, better, cheaper" approach to space exploration. It demonstrated the validity of the model to building and launching spacecraft. That mission, because it was initiated as a technology demonstration mission, had extensive oversight by seasoned, experienced senior engineers ù something that was conspicuously missing from the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander Missions.

We must guard against adding layers of bureaucracy or dumping more money into the program to remedy what is not broken. We must ensure that experienced engineers are allowed to do their job, express their concerns, and are engaged in every level of the program.

While the old NASA was created as a tool of foreign policy and the new NASA as a response to globalization, one element remains the same ù the necessity to seek bold challenges, to explore the unknown, to open up the near frontier to all who want to go; to venture into the far frontier to learn about the cosmos; and in doing so to learn about ourselves. "Faster, better, cheaper" fuels the "can-do" spirit and accelerates advances in space and here on Earth.

A restructured, well organized Mars Surveyor Program will unlock many of the secrets of life and will help to define our place in the universe. A strong adherence to engineering and research fundamentals, enhanced by closer collaboration with our best academic institutions will ensure economic strength and technology leadership well into the 21st century.

P.A. Dasch/June 16, 2000

The National Space Society is a pro-space advocacy organization whose 20,000 members worldwide are working to create a spacefaring civilization. To learn more about NSS and its programs, call 202-543-1900 or go to

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