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Lockheed-Martin is not taking very good care of our money. NASA has spent billions with the aerospace contractor, and the results have been horrendous. The latest installment in this recurrent tragedy of errors involves the Genesis Space Capsule, which crashed to earth in the Utah desert last month. The $264 million dollar mission was put at risk because those fine folks at the Waterton, Colorado Lockheed Martin Astronautics plant installed a part backwards - and then completely failed to notice their error before sending it off into space.

The capsule spent nearly three years in space gathering miniscule particles from the solar wind. To prevent the collected samples from being contaminated by dirt from earth, the plan called for snagging the capsule on a polehook from a helicopter door as it drifted gently toward earth at 10 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the reversed gravity switch was unable to function properly due to its misinstallation, and the drogue chute that was to have initially slowed the craft's descent never deployed. Instead, the craft plowed into the ground at nearly 200 miles per hour, damaging and contaminating the collector panels. The fact that scientists are hopeful that most of the samples will ultimately be recoverable does nothing to excuse the pattern of incompetence that seems so obvious from here.

In September of 2003, the NOAA N-Prime satellite being constructed in Lockheed's California satellite factory fell to the floor because 24 bolts used to secure the satellite to its cart were missing. The satellite sustained significant damage in the one-meter fall to a concrete floor. Lockheed officials have agreed to voluntarily give up all the profits it had earned on the satellite contract to date, and to repair the satellite on a cost-only basis. This sounds good at first, but this pretty clearly indicates to me that the costs to repair the damage will exceed the profit margin on the project. If this were not the case, Lockheed would have made out better by just volunterring to finish the project on its original budget.

It seems to me that we're rewarding Lockheed's incompetence with additional work. They will now be paid for all the work they did, plus all the work they were supposed to do, PLUS all the work caused by their incompetence. It's asinine to reward failure, yet that's exactly what's happening.

The announcement that Lockheed will return their profits on the project comes in the wake of NASA's release of the final report into the satellite mishap, which put the blame for the accident squarely on the company. The report cited a lack of discipline, complacent attitudes, and poor communication and procedures as key contributing causes to the crash. Lockheed should be required to finish the project on budget, not rewarded for their internal failings with additional monies for additional work, the need for which was directly caused by their negligence.

see the fallen satellite here:

Lockheed-Martin is also at the center of high-profile failures in the exploration of Mars. They were the main contractor on the Mars Climate Orbiter, which either burned up in the Martian atmosphere or was lost to space in late 1999. Investigators determined that the output of one trajectory software program was output in English units of measure, but the next team in the chain assumed that the output was Metric. Its companion project, the Mars Polar Lander, crashed into the Martian surface in December 1999 when the lander's engines prematurely shut down.

An in-depth review of NASA's Mars exploration program, released in March of 2000, found significant flaws in formulation and execution led to the failures of recent missions, and provides recommendations for future exploration of Mars. NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin appointed Thomas Young, a seasoned space-industry executive, to independently assess current and future Mars programs.

"I congratulate Tom Young and his team for a superb report," Goldin said today. "They have rigorously scrutinized both successful and unsuccessful missions, shining a searchlight into every corner of the incredibly complex endeavor of deep space exploration. He and his team have delivered an extraordinary report and I thank them on behalf of NASA and the American people."
"Speaking for the team, I would like to express my appreciation for the spirit of cooperation that we enjoyed at NASA Headquarters, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and at Lockheed Martin," Young said. "The managers, scientists and engineers we spoke with were candid and frank in their presentations and in their answers to our questions. Everyone worked toward the same goal: finding ways to make the Mars program successful.

Unfortunately, it seems that nothing was really learned from these failures. Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

A lack of effective oversight and quality-control processes has doomed one Lockheed Martin product after another. I'm left with only one question: Is it proper for NASA to continue rewarding these failures with additional contracts?

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