Comments by NASA's Andrew Dantzler Regarding Recent Dawn Mission Reviews


Editor's note: The following comments regarding the Dawn mission were made by Andrew Dantzler, Division Director of Planetary Sciences at the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, this morning at a NASA workshop titled "Lesson Learned Workshop for PI-Led Planetary Science Missions". Slight editing out of um's and ah's has been made.

"I have been elected to destroy our schedule slack. When we were putting this conference together, there was a major event happening with a PI-led mission and we weren't quite sure how to deal with that. We kinda left it off of the agenda. There is a burning issue - and that is the issue of Dawn.

There seems to be some noise in the system and I'd just like to clarify it. And that noise would be that we'd like to talk about cost caps. Brad can get up here and tell you all about trying to meet costs - and then, when a mission gets into trouble you just appeal to the Administrator and that the cost cap is removed. That is definitely not the case.

A very quick lesson learned here: how the new process works. Mike Griffin set up sort of a parallel communications line. It used to be that centers like JPL, Goddard, and Ames would report through the mission Associate Administrator - and of course the Associate Administrator would report to the Administrator - both institutionally and programmatically. What Mike Griffin has set up is a parallel line of reporting where all programmatic issues continue to go through the Associate Administrator but institutional issues go through the Associate Administrator of NASA.

The programmatic issues go through the Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate - that's Mary Cleave (right now). And institutional issues go through the Associate Administrator of NASA- which is Rex Geveden. In this way institutional and programmatic issues can have separate lines of communication and, as you can imagine, even in a perfect world, institutional issues and programmatic issues often times are at odds with each other. So, both voices get heard at the higher levels of NASA.

In the case of Dawn, SMD determined that it had an overrun and a schedule slip to the point where we felt it should be taken to a termination review. We did sign the Terminate Notice - and we have the right to do that. And Mary Cleave would like to make sure that everyone understands we retain the right to do that. If something is overrunning to the point where we feel that we can't afford it or slipping to the point where we fell that there is an issue with regard to bumping the schedules of other things that would result in more overruns - we will take it to a Termination Review - and we reserve the right to terminate it.

If there are institutional issues associated with that mission then - yes - there is the right to appeal to the Associate Administrator and that appeal may or may not be heard depending on what the circumstances are.

In the case of Dawn we (SMD) followed what process we thought was there - and we probably could have done that a little bit better. So there are certainly some process issues - we are also going to use the whole new process - the whole double or parallel lines of communication

And so, the extenuating circumstances in the case of Dawn were really strictly a matter of process - that JPL hadn't really had its chance to get its side of the story - at least that's what the set of circumstances appear to be.

So there are two things to take away from this. One is yes; there is a right to appeal. But, according to Rex, it is going to be very, very rare. It is going to be rare to take this up to the Administrator - the Associate Administrator. It is rare that there will be circumstances where he is going to hear this to begin with - and it is going to be rare for him that he will over turn an SMD decision.

The other thing is when you do overrun - if there is an overrun - we don't print money in the basement of Headquarters. The reason we have cost caps is so that we can plan our budgets. If there is an overrun that money will come from somewhere else. It will probably come from the next mission in that line - Scout, Discovery, New Frontiers - whatever. So ... not like any one ever intends to overrun - but I did at least want to clarify that and give everyone an opportunity to ask questions since I know that this is something of a new issue."

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