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Planetary Society Calls for Cool Heads in Heated NASA Debate


Mat Kaplan
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

"React, but don't overreact," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society, commenting on the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team Report released today. "The reports detail many areas that need to be corrected to carry out the 'faster, better, cheaper' Mars flights successfully. However," he cautioned, "it is crucial that NASA not overreact and slow down the program too much.”

Friedman emphasized that, “The public wants to continue on the road to Mars, and they strongly support learning from recent mistakes in order to move forward into the future.”

NASA does seem ready to postpone the next Mars lander mission from 2001 to 2003. However, the Mars orbiter planned for launch in 2001 still seems on track. It also appears likely that the Mars sample return mission, previously scheduled for 2005, will be restructured, which may cause some delay.

Friedman said, "There certainly is a need for more caution and better engineering. To this end, the reports of the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team and other review groups are extremely valuable.” However, Friedman worries that, “Recommendations which strongly emphasize technological development could unnecessarily lead to NASA’s scaling back too much on its basic objective of scientific exploration.” He emphasizes that, “The trick is to find the right balance between more careful spacecraft development and operations on the one hand, and on sustained discovery and progress on the other.”

ìIt is encouraging that the report concludes that faster, better, cheaper is a necessary and workable approach to mission development," said Friedman. “Of course, it was a new approach and was implemented improperly in some cases. But we can all learn from those mistakes to assure a strong, affordable and successful program in the future.”

Friedman headed the Mars Program at JPL in the late 1970's, after the Viking landing on Mars. He noted that “We need to put these mission failures in perspective. The three missions lost last year -- Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 -- have a combined cost that is less than half that of the single Mars Observer mission lost in 1993. Putting it in that context,” Friedman said, “makes us realize the necessity of faster, better, cheaper -- the faster, better, cheaper approach can work if we apply more cleverness, caution and care. This was the case for Pathfinder in 1997 and the Mars Global Surveyor mission in 1998, which is still mapping Mars at unprecedented resolution and coverage.”

“Mars remains high on the international space agenda and is still a target of all the world’s spacefaring nations. It remains a particularly important item in the U.S. national space policy,” said Friedman.

“Perhaps more notable in our age of accountability, Mars exploration commands extraordinary public interest as well. From questions about the origin of life to our fascination with exploring new frontiers, Mars will continue to beckon. And we must answer its call with faster, cheaper missions that are also better by incorporating the lessons learned from both the successes as well as the failures."

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