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December 22, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 12


The Academy has developed several recent case studies related to NASA science missions.

The case study library includes a number of cases about the challenges of developing science missions.

Redesigning COBE

The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite was slated to launch on the Space Shuttle in 1989, but the loss of the Challenger on January 28, 1986 changed everything. The COBE team was forced back to the drawing board: it had to find a new way to get COBE into orbit.

Governance Model in Action: The New Horizons RP-1 Tank Decision Case Study

Four months before the planned launch of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, the manufacturer of the launch vehicle reported that its fuel tank experienced a failure during the final stages of qualification testing. The questions raised by this failure ultimately presented a test case for NASA’s new governance model for resolving difficult technical issues.

The Gravity Probe-B Launch Decision

In the summer of 2003, the Gravity Probe B spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base for integration and testing to prepare for launch. As NASA and its contractor teams from Stanford and Lockheed Martin checked its various systems, engineers turned their attention to a problem with the Experimental Control Unit (ECU), a box that housed a number of electronic components. The resolution of this very specific technical issue ultimately required a decision that only the program manager could make.

Searching for Life on Mars: the Viking GCMS

The primary objective of the Viking science mission was the stuff of dreams: to determine if there was evidence of life of Mars. One instrument that was critical to achieving the mission’s scientific objectives was a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS). Three years into the development of the GCMS, it was not at all clear that the instrument would ever be completed. What could the project manager do to bring this instrument back into the fold?

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