Mars mission director’s message to feds: Persevere

Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program Caitlin Fairchild/GovExec.com

On 40 occasions, humans have attempted to send missions to Mars. Only 16 of these missions have succeeded, Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said Thursday.

Some of the attempts have missed their target entirely, McCuistion told attendees at Government Executive’s Excellence in Government conference. “Believe it or not, you can miss a planet,” he said.

But that’s no excuse for not continuing to try, McCuistion argued. Perseverance and patience are critical to the success of any of government’s missions, he said: “The key is to keep going. Make those hard decisions. Don’t be afraid of them.”

On the program to develop the Mars Curiosity rover, which recently landed successfully and began exploring the Red Planet, those hard decisions included opting in 2009 to push back the launch schedule. “There was no way to make it with the right amount of risk,” McCuistion said. The delay ended up costing NASA $500 million.

Safely landing the Curiosity vehicle, which weighs 1 metric ton, on the surface of a distant planet was a massive engineering, management and funding challenge, McCuistion said. The rover’s nuclear power system is designed to last 17 years. “I’m not sure my operations budget will last that long,” he said.

The program faced myriad challenges over the years in which Curiosity was designed, built and launched, including multiple problems with the actuators that control virtually all the rover’s movements.

Throughout that time, the team of engineers and scientists on the project “didn’t lose sight of what that final path was,” McCuistion said. “And we made it.”

When they did, he said, it was a thrilling sight to see Americans watching the landing on giant screens in New York City’s Times Square in the middle of the night, chanting, “NASA!”

“I’m not sure we can do that again,” he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.