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NASA's Foreknowledge

By nascent in News
Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 01:34:15 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

ABC News is reporting that NASA knew ahead of time that the Mars Polar Lander would crash. When the landing gear was tested - and failed - they simply adjusted the parameters so it would pass. More specifically, the landing gear touching ground turned off the engines. But the actual deployment of the legs was triggering the shutdown as well.

Bzzz. Thunk. Click. [wheee!] Smash.


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NASA's Foreknowledge | 11 comments (11 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
It's an opportunity to smirk at NAS... (none / 0) (#6)
by pwhysall on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 06:20:35 AM EST

pwhysall voted 1 on this story.

It's an opportunity to smirk at NASA trying to do things on the cheap and failing. Look at the difference between Galileo (not cheap, works) and MPL (very cheap, didn't work). Which one is the best value proposition now?
--
Peter
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
CheeseBurgerBrown

As I recall, this whole cheap thing started when.. (none / 0) (#8)
by marlowe on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 01:46:40 PM EST

--- I will insist on my right to question ---an expensive Mars probe failed.

Oh, and by the way, Galileo was not perfect.  It had a rather nasty antenna
problem.

--- I will insist on my right to question ---

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
Let's see... how many billions of d... (none / 0) (#5)
by locutus074 on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 06:42:45 AM EST

locutus074 voted 1 on this story.

Let's see... how many billions of dollars did this cost? Yo! Anybody ever hear of overengineering something?

BTW, rusty: could you edit the story so the URL is a nice little clicky link? I'm a New Lazy bastard. ;)
--
"If you haven't gotten where you're going,
you aren't there yet." --George Carlin

Re: Let's see... how many billions of d... (none / 0) (#10)
by analog on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 09:00:17 PM EST

It cost ~165 million dollars. A lot of money, but for some perspective let's note that it's several tens of millions less than it cost to make the movie Titanic.

As for overengineering, NASA's not allowed to do that any more. They used to do it to the nth degree, but Congress got ticked and cut their budget to the bone. They're making due with what they've got available, and if you check into it a little further than the latest sensationlized headline, I think you'll find they're doing an admirable job.

I think this story's got to be taken with a huge grain of salt. While anyone who's worked for the gov't in some capacity can tell you that it's shot through with morons who don't give a damn, they'll also tell you that it's chock full of brilliant people who care deeply about what they do (NASA especially so). The chances that enough of these decided to look the other way to allow something of this nature to happen are very slim.

The news is full of this story right now. It will be interesting indeed to see how much media attention it gets when and if it turns out to be completely wrong. Strangely, people just don't seem to be as happy to hear that their government did the right thing...

[ Parent ]

Re: Let's see... how many billions of d... (none / 0) (#11)
by rusty on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 09:39:16 PM EST

I think this story's got to be taken with a huge grain of salt. While anyone who's worked for the gov't in some capacity can tell you that it's shot through with morons who don't give a damn, they'll also tell you that it's chock full of brilliant people who care deeply about what they do (NASA especially so).

This is absolutely true. I used to work for DARPA, and it was just like that. Ok, with the exception of the EPA, which as far as I could tell, was just shot through with morons.

It will be interesting indeed to see how much media attention it gets when and if it turns out to be completely wrong.

If you get wind of any such retraction or rebuttal, send it in. I'd like to hear different, personally. Me & deacon went to Space Camp together! I don't like to hear bad things about NASA.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Those NASA engineers aren't terribl... (none / 0) (#3)
by hattig on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 10:21:32 AM EST

hattig voted 1 on this story.

Those NASA engineers aren't terribly bright now, are they?

Usually I get bored by the words "M... (none / 0) (#4)
by Fish on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 10:33:13 AM EST

Fish voted 1 on this story.

Usually I get bored by the words "Mars" and "NASA" (oops, nearly typed NSA there), but in this case ...

This sounds like a lot of speculati... (none / 0) (#2)
by ramses0 on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 11:13:47 AM EST

ramses0 voted 1 on this story.

This sounds like a lot of speculation, I'd like to hear from anybody who might know more about this.
[ rate all comments , for great justice | sell.com ]

More from the BBC and NASA's rebuttal (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by nascent on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 04:50:24 PM EST

A few links that might help out the curious. The first is from the BBC, just telling us what we've already read in different words. The second is a post on Slashdot from a person who claims to have worked at NASA for four years. He also includes NASA's official rebuttal. For clarity sake, I'll reproduce it below.

BBC
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_686000/686224.stm

Slashdot
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=00/03/22/1034255&cid=58

James Oberg of UPI claims that NASA knew there was a problem with the Mars Polar Lander propulsion system prior to the Dec. 3 landing attempt and "withheld this conclusion from the public." NASA categorically denies this charge. Here's what NASA did and what NASA said:

  • The Stephenson report, phase 1, was released to the public on November 10, 1999 during a press conference at NASA Headquarters.
  • The report made 11 different references to technical issues or concerns involving the propulsion system and the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence.
  • This issue was specifically addressed in the press conference and in "MPL Observation No. 5" and other public recommendations of the Stephenson Phase 1 report. It was entitled, "Cold Firing of Thrusters," and dealt in detail with the catalyst bed issue cited by Mr. Oberg of UPI in his March 21 story, "NASA Knew Mars Polar Lander Doomed."
  • Had UPI researched the public documents released on Nov. 10, which have been available online at the NASA Home Page, the reporter would have been able to conclude that NASA did indeed publicly address propulsion issues, and specifically, the propulsion system's "catalyst bed" temperature concern.
  • Based on this review, NASA knew about the concerns with the propulsion system, NASA took corrective action, and NASA hid nothing from the public. We made our concerns known in early November.
  • Several failure scenarios have been reported in the press over the last few weeks, including the lander legs microswitch issue. Outlets such as the Denver Post, Space Daily, and National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" have covered this angle. There is nothing new in the UPI report relating to this specific issue. The lander legs issue is among the failure modes we are studying.
  • Both the Stephenson and Casani (John Casani, retired JPL flight programs head and also director of mission assurance) teams have conducted intensive reviews relating to Mars Polar Lander, and their teams have surfaced no evidence relating to thruster acceptance testing irregularities as alleged by UPI. In fact, members of the review teams are using words like "bunk," "complete nonsense," and "wacko," to describe their reactions to UPI's charge.

----[%end]----

All of this seems perfectly reasonable (IMHO), but I still think that the Faster, Better, Cheaper methodology needs to be seriously reconsidered. But then I'm not exactly the only one thinking this, huh?

nascent
http://www.intap.net/~j/
nascent
http://www.intap.net/~j/
[ Parent ]

NASA needs a *MAJOR* overhaul in up... (4.00 / 1) (#7)
by The-Dev on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 01:03:50 PM EST

The-Dev voted 1 on this story.

NASA needs a *MAJOR* overhaul in upper management.

They should start by replacing Dan Goldin. If NASA were a company, the CEO would have been let go by now.

Sad.... (none / 0) (#1)
by techt on Wed Mar 22, 2000 at 01:34:15 PM EST

techt voted 1 on this story.

Sad.
--
Proud member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation!
Are You? http://www.eff.org/support/joineff.html

NASA's Foreknowledge | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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