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MARS Climate Observer -- Failure Mode



This would be funny if it wasn't so sad! NASA today released a
report on the reason that the the Mars Climate Observer had its
catastrophic failure last week. The Locheed-Martin (LockMart -- your
one stop aerospace contractor) team in Colorado transmitted some
crucial data to the JPL controllers. Unfortuanately, LockMart
used English (feet-inches) and JPL expected metric units. The
result was that the spacecraft was destroyed as it slammed into the 
Martian atmosphere. The following press release is on the NASA web 
site at URL

      ftp://ftp.hq.nasa.gov/pub/pao/pressrel/1999/99-113.txt

Tom

  ---------------------------------------------------------------

> MARS CLIMATE ORBITER TEAM FINDS LIKELY CAUSE OF LOSS
> 
>      A failure to recognize and correct an error in a transfer of 
> information between the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft team in 
> Colorado and the mission navigation team in California led to the 
> loss of the spacecraft last week, preliminary findings by NASA's 
> Jet Propulsion Laboratory internal peer review indicate.
> 
>      "People sometimes make errors," said Dr. Edward Weiler, 
> NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science. "The problem 
> here was not the error, it was the failure of NASA's systems 
> engineering, and the checks and balances in our processes to 
> detect the error.  That's why we lost the spacecraft."
> 
>      The peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team 
> used English units (e.g., inches, feet and pounds) while the other 
> used metric units for a key spacecraft operation.  This 
> information was critical to the maneuvers required to place the 
> spacecraft in the proper Mars orbit.  
> 
>       "Our inability to recognize and correct  this simple error 
> has had major implications," said Dr. Edward Stone, director of 
> the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  "We have underway a thorough 
> investigation to understand this issue."
> 
>     Two separate review committees have already been formed to 
> investigate the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter: an internal JPL peer 
> group and a special review board of JPL and outside experts. An 
> independent NASA failure review board will be formed shortly.
> 
>      "Our clear short-term goal is to maximize the likelihood of a 
> successful landing of the Mars Polar Lander on December 3," said 
> Weiler. "The lessons from these reviews will be applied across the 
> board in the future."
> 
>      Mars Climate Orbiter was one of a series of missions in a 
> long-term program of Mars exploration managed by the Jet 
> Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, 
> Washington, DC.  JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin 
> Astronautics, Denver, CO.  JPL is a division of the California 
> Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
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