Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 80-99)

5 JULY 2004


  Q80 Chairman: So why did you not pull it at some stage?

  Professor Southwood: It is not my responsibility to pull it. I made it clear what my position was. I made it clear I required it to be safe and not to harm the rest of the spacecraft, but there is a managerial division you make. I had to cede responsibilities to the British, who were managing it. As long as they were willing to deliver it, and they delivered it eventually, we bent over backwards to get it up into space. We took it months late. I had a special aeroplane to make sure it got to Kazakhstan. We did everything we could to make sure our side of the bargain was kept but, you see, you cannot have two captains on the ship. That is a management principle on which I am very firm. There was a division of responsibility. If it had been my responsibility from the start, of course I would have dealt with it differently and if necessary been able to cancel it, but it was not my final decision to cancel. Of course I made clear, and I think everybody knew, I thought it was extremely high risk but, I ask you, what would you have done with it in the spring of 2003? Did you know it was not going to work? I did not know it was not going to work. I just thought it had a high risk of not working. There was nothing else to do with it. The next time we could have flown Mars Express would have been in 2009 because 2003 was a very special year.

  Q81 Chairman: Really for the major project, it was expendable. If it did not work, what the heck; it was the British anyway that were involved?

  Professor Southwood: I think you have to ask the British what they thought. My responsibility was to make sure that it was delivered.

  Chairman: You have made it very clear from your point of view what your responsibilities were.

  Q82 Paul Farrelly: I appreciate from this that you might not want to take a hitchhiker on board again in the future.

  Professor Southwood: No, I think we were happy to do it. I certainly think it was a wonderful mission and I actually still think it was money well spent. I strongly resonate with what one of the earlier witnesses said about the fact that the investment was in the skills that had been developed.

  Q83 Paul Farrelly: That was the preamble and not a question. We heard from Professor Pillinger that it would have been, in his word, "nice" if they could have looked for the wreckage of the lander if indeed there was wreckage but the Express, the Orbiter, was the other way round the planet and looking in the wrong direction. I do not know how accurate that picture is but was there any sense or attempt in trying actually to co-ordinate the two vehicles as you went along with the project or were you just being a piggy-back operation?

  Professor Southwood: No, you work in the appropriate engineering environment. I think you have got the wrong picture. Of course, what you are talking about is: where was Mars Express when Beagle landed? In fact it went around behind the planet because it was in the process of being inserted into orbit. There was no point in looking for it at that stage. We had no instruments working. We were going through the most critical phase of our part of the mission, which was to make sure we got into Mars' orbit. That was quite as important as making sure that Beagle had earlier got on to an orbit that landed it. We had to make sure that Mars Express got on to an orbit that did not land it but put it into orbit around Mars. Of course later we looked, when we had the cameras working et cetera, but we then had to go through a massive number of manoeuvres to move from the equatorial orbit we used to deliver Beagle to put us into the polar orbit we used to survey Mars. I can tell you that was an enormous amount of effort, very nail-biting, and it took us several weeks. If that was not showing we bent over backwards for Beagle, I do not know what was.

  Q84 Chairman: Was that a high risk manoeuvre, too?

  Professor Southwood: Yes, of course.

  Q85 Chairman: You put yourself in that position, with a high-risk strategy of re-manoeuvring yourself?

  Professor Southwood: Absolutely clear, yes.

  Q86 Chairman: That was even though Beagle caused that to happen? Is that what you are saying?

  Professor Southwood: I think you are making an antagonism that I do not have towards Beagle. I wanted to do my best for Beagle. Equally well, I wanted to observe the managerial niceties and indeed it is a matter of discipline. It is just a distinction. I cannot throw my weight around on issues I have not paid for.

  Q87 Mr McWalter: I am happy to probe that antagonism a little, if I may. If the Government said, "We are now going to put £35 million into a mission in 2007 under Professor Pullinger's leadership", would you jump for joy or would you be absolutely dismayed?

  Professor Southwood: I would jump for joy that the Government wanted to do that science. Personally, I think it is terrific science. I think it is also galvanising for the public. If you tried to do it with the same managerial structure that was introduced in 1998, I would give the strongest advice against doing it, but that is not to say anything against Colin Pillinger. I am not criticising Colin Pillinger as a scientist. The managerial structure of Beagle was highly original and I think deeply flawed, but you do not find out that it is deeply flawed until afterwards. If you had never tried it, you would still be being pressed—not you collectively but I would still be being pressed—to try such things.

  Q88 Mr Key: Professor, it has been suggested that some other European countries, notably France, were not impressed that the project was called the British-led Beagle lander project. Do you think it is true that deep down some Member States were viscerally opposed to this?

  Professor Southwood: There were issues. I do not think "viscerally" is quite correct. There are too many scientists in France who were enthusiastic about the science and scientists do not get viscerally upset on nationalistic grounds. Certainly there were problems because of course you probably know that France at the same time was trying to undertake a multiple lander programme called Mars NetLander. I think the French Space Agency were concerned that there was not sufficient IPR transfer to France to allow them to ride on the developments being done by the Beagle team in Britain. I think you can regard that as perhaps having commercial interests. I do not think the word "visceral" really applies there either. I think perhaps "commercial" might be a better word.

  Q89 Mr Key: Was it all a question of money really, given that there was no guaranteed state funding for Beagle?

  Professor Southwood: For me money is pretty basic. We have introduced new requirements, with a lot of help from the British, let me say, to make sure money is available and clear up-front and it is also clear who is responsible up-front. I think when you have got money in your hand, the manager can manage much better. I am a manager and I would like the people I work with to be managers. Money is fundamental but managerial structure is also fundamental. You have to know who has the final say on things, who takes decisions, and there has to be a hierarchical arrangement so that you know ultimately who carries the can. The way this started with a gentlemen's agreement, it can work as long as the gentlemen remain gentlemen. I think one of the problems was that when the money is coming from diverse sources, when you get into trouble it becomes difficult; when it is fair sailing, nobody worries.

  Q90 Mr Key: Professor, why was the Casani Review not implemented?

  Professor Southwood: It was largely implemented. I think you have to be cautious about saying "it was not implemented". Parts of it were difficult to implement.

  Q91 Mr Key: Why?

  Professor Southwood: In particular, we tried a very simple solution which was to put in a new management structure, which eventually we put in. That was that the United Kingdom Government gave Astrium UK a managerial role with a contract and made it clear they were in charge. That took much longer than was needed in the circumstances. Also I think there was the issue of IPR. The entry-descent landing system was at the core of the success or failure of the mission. That is self-evident. For me, it would have been very good for ESA to take over that clearly as a well-defined element that could then be managerially separated from the rest of the lander. If you separate bits and pieces, you do not separate the management. Then there is no line of command. For me, the problem we then had of course was that there were many sub-contracts and also certain companies had spent their own money. If I were running a company and I had spent money, I would not want to give it away, or I would be reluctant. We were working against the clock. This was in the autumn of 2000. I think that the best compromise was met, given the fact that the clock was ticking and given the fact that we had managerial complications.

  Q92 Paul Farrelly: We have gone back round in circles here about the management, in your words, being deeply flawed. Are you saying that Colin Pillinger, who was the inspiration and the driving force behind the project, is a good scientist but is not necessarily a good manager?

  Professor Southwood: I always think in terms of things like sport. Colin Pillinger may be the David Beckham but it is the manager—

  Q93 Paul Farrelly: He is not the Alex Ferguson?

  Professor Southwood: It was not Alex Ferguson I was thinking of but our Swedish manager but there you go! Yes, Alex Ferguson will do. There are two different roles here: there is the inspiration; there is the creativity, the imagination. Colin Pillinger has it in spades. He has the public appeal. He can persuade people, and he is right to do so. That does not make him necessarily a good manager. There is a different skill involved in management. I do not know whether David Beckham would be a good manager. I have no idea.

  Q94 Dr Iddon: Can I ask you, Professor Southwood, whether you knew what the management structure of Beagle 2 was from the outset and, if it changed, when it changed? How closely were you monitoring it?

  Professor Southwood: I came in in 2001. You will understand that I actually knew I was going to take the job in late 2000. Because I wanted it a clean issue and I did not want my nationality to become controversial, because of issues associated with other countries, I actually remained very out of it until I became the manager, until I became Director, and that was on 1 May. I came in and within 15 days I had decided that this thing—it was very frustrating because I wanted it to be successful—was not going to work; I thought it would be a failure then. I then dug my heels in and Astrium realised that I was not just going to shell out money or anything like that without a price; that is, without what I felt was a clean managerial arrangement to convince me that it made engineering sense. We spent a very difficult summer and I would not have minded betting in June or July of that year that Beagle would be abandoned. The problem was that we had already spent a lot of money—"we", the team had spent a lot of money, and that becomes very difficult.

  Q95 Dr Iddon: Who are you directing your criticisms at? I have written some down here: it was a highly original management structure; it was deeply flawed; you cannot have two captains on the ship. You have been very critical of the management but were you directing your management criticism at anyone on the Beagle 2 project and, if so, who?

  Professor Southwood: Actually, my primary target is not the Beagle 2 team; it is the fact that they were in a system where they were trying something completely new, which was not working. Then you have to do something about it. If I sound critical, it is just because I do not want it to happen again.

  Q96 Mr McWalter: Did you try and get those changes? You say it was fantastic science and really interesting and, lo and behold, 15 days after you have got your new job, you are basically pulling the rug really. You had a very negative attitude to the thing. I was involved in some of that. Given that that was going on, why did you not insist that there would be changes, say in the landing system, which would then have made you happy?

  Professor Southwood: Because I did not have the authority. I was not in charge.

  Q97 Mr McWalter: You would have dumped payload on your mission?

  Professor Southwood: Yes, and I would do the same with other countries. I have done the same with other instruments in other countries.

  Q98 Chairman: Who were you firing the bullets at? Is it OST, the DTI or who?

  Professor Southwood: In the UK?

  Q99 Chairman: Yes?

  Professor Southwood: I think I am not really firing the bullets. I am just saying the system failed.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 2 November 2004