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Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                Oct. 6, 1999
(Phone:  202/358-1547)

RELEASE:  99-117


NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin today named Arthur G. Stephenson, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, to be the head of the Mars Climate Orbiter Mission Failure Investigation Board.

The investigation board will look independently into all aspects of the failure of the mission, which was lost Sept. 23 as the spacecraft was entering orbit around Mars. The Board will report its initial findings to NASA Headquarters by Nov. 3, 1999. Other members of the board will be established shortly.

"As a proven private sector executive and now as a director of a NASA Center, Art Stephenson has all the skills necessary to lead a failure review team comprised of the nation's best and brightest. I have asked him to look at the implications of the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter as it relates to all NASA missions," Goldin said.

"The team hopes to verify whether the cause of this failure was a result of an inadequacy in our interplanetary navigation systems. Our systems should be robust enough to detect human and machine-made errors. The findings may lead to a fundamental change in the design of our future interplanetary missions," Goldin added.

Preliminary findings by an internal peer review at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, indicate that 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. As reported last week, the peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team used English units while the other used metric units for a key spacecraft operation.

An internal JPL peer group and a special review board consisting of experts from JPL and outside organizations have already been formed to investigate the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter.

The support team for the Mars Surveyor 1998 missions continues to analyze all data and engineering processes related to the orbiter's companion mission, the Mars Polar Lander, to ensure that no similar issues exist within that mission. Mars Polar Lander is scheduled to arrive at Mars on Dec. 3 and land on rolling, icy terrain near the planet's South Pole.

Mars Climate Orbiter was one of a series of missions in a long-term program of Mars exploration managed by JPL 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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