Examination of Witness (Questions 75-79)|
5 JULY 2004
Q75 Chairman: Thank you, Professor Southwood
for coming along. I believe you were present in the first session
and heard the nature of our questioning and the issues that arose.
Can I start off by saying thank you very much for coming today.
You heard my final remarks; we are all pro science, and we want
to make sure that science advances, and in this area particularly.
My first question would be why the Mars Express only started the
project in 1997, leaving only six years to the launch date, because
there was an opportunity, was there not, in 2003 to get something
going to Mars? Why did it take so long to move it along?
Professor Southwood: I think Europe
sometimes finds it hard to get its act together. In fact, Western
European nations had started trying to go to Mars with the Russians
in the closing phase of the Soviet Union, with the two missions
to Phobos, both of which failedpartial failures in one
case. Then subsequently the Russians, I think wanting to open
up to the West at that particular time in the late eighties, introduced
a mission originally called Mars 92, which, due to the chaos in
the Soviet Union, did not get launched until 1996, and so it changed
its name to Mars 96 and was a complete loss. The spacecraft upper
stage engine failed and the spacecraft failed to leave earth orbit.
Much of the instrumentation on that spacecraft was from Western
Europe, and indeed the existence of that programme had, I am sure,
de-prioritised the need for ESA to have a Martian programme. Scientists
are not terrifically sensitive about flag, and Russia had a long
history of Martian exploration, or attempts at Martian exploration.
So in 1996 there was a failure. It was a fairly catastrophic failure
for the Russian space programme in fact. It was very clear that
Russia was not going to suddenly re-institute a new programme
overnight. So the nations that had up to that time been most interested
in Martian exploration, which did not include the United Kingdom
but Germany, France and Italy, were then interested in whether
something could be saved from the wreckage, and could come Phoenix-like
out of the ashes, and Mars Express was that answer. At the same
time, we like to kill multiple birds with one stone, and we were
under enormous pressure for the faster, cheaper, better approach
to be shown to be possible in the European context. Mars Express
was taken on as a new way of working. In Mars Express itself we
did it faster than we had ever done things before, and moreover
had industry and scientists working together in ways that we would
never have trusted them to in the past. We empowered the scientists
and industry to talk together, because it is a dangerous thing
to do, because the scientists put up the demands on the industrial
side and the price rises as well, and we have to pay the industries;
so we were very nervous about this. In fact, we designed a system
that worked, and Mars Express was delivered successfully. The
idea of putting a lander onthere was no lander on Mars
1996; it was an orbiter whose primary purpose was to fly a high-resolution
stereo camera, which we have now flown, and I hope those results
you have seen. That was, so to speak, properly where we began.
Q76 Chairman: Professor Pillinger described
the lander as an add-on; they did not have the same status as
some of the other instruments.
Professor Southwood: It was late.
It was only when we had scoped the mission that it was clear that
there could be a lander because there was the capability to launch
some extra kilogrammes. You start a mission by identifying roughly
the resources and technical requirements, and then you refine
them in a series of totally well-defined phases. They are called
sometimes pre-phase A, phase A, phase B. They all have totally
well-defined activities associated with them, and you home in
on the resources on the management structure and so on. During
the early phases, it was clear that we had mass margin and it
could be used if somebody would give us a landerand also
if somebody would build us a lander, because the issue is not
simply mass and not simply money, it is also management. We were
trying to do a mission to a very tight budgetcheaper, faster,
betterand you do not suddenly take on new management responsibilities
without considerationclearly, we do not stay in budget
if we do that, or we do not come near staying in budget. Furthermore,
there is a principleI do not know that it has a name but
I think it is a little like subsidiaritythat we like the
sharp end of our missions to be run from inside our Member States,
with the scientists themselves taking over as much responsibility
Q77 Chairman: The question is about the
lander and the status of the project.
Professor Southwood: We received
an offer of a lander from the United Kingdom, and we realised
it was going to be done in an even more creative way. That is
very clear in the documents.
Q78 Chairman: We are going to have to
have sharper answers if we are to get through all the questions.
Was the lander treated in a different perspective and more seriously
than in the other instances?
Professor Southwood: Yes, because
it started off being seen as an isolated element under British
management. In fact, the management was, as you heard yourself,
very unusual. By two years or so into the project, it was clear
that was not working. We then had to impose a much more traditional
approach to delivery. I am afraid that is just the way it was.
Q79 Chairman: Did you think the lander
would fail or crash?
Professor Southwood: You have
got to ask me at what point did I realise it was very unlikely
to succeed. Continually during the programme, your view of how
the programme is evolving changes. That is engineering for you.
Say you miss more and more tests and more and more time for tests,
so you adjust your riskmy private risk assessment. By the
time it was launched, I thought the likelihood of failure was
very high. I could not have told you a numerical value. I am not
a betting man, so I would not have given you odds, but I would
have said by the end of the programme I was fairly clear.