MAVEN is a Team Effort

MAVEN Standing Review Board
Members of the MAVEN Standing Review Board during one of our reviews. They’ve been through projects like this before and know where many of the potential pitfalls are. (Courtesy MAVEN)

Several people have asked me what role NASA HQ plays in the development of our mission and whether we on the MAVEN team have free reign to move forward as we see fit. As Principal Investigator of MAVEN, I led the development of the original concept, assembled the team, and led the effort to write the competitive proposals and reports prior to our selection. Having moved into development, I retain the overall authority and responsibility for the mission. We have a Project Manager (David F. Mitchell, at GSFC) who reports to me; he oversees the implementation, and he heads a Project Office that carries out the broad management functions.

However, we are implementing the mission as part of the larger Mars Exploration Program that is itself a part of the NASA program. As part of this broader program, we work closely with a lot of people and organizations that are outside of the project itself.

The Mars Exploration Program (MEP) at NASA HQ oversees the Mars program as a whole, developing the annual budget and setting policy for the Program. At present, the Mars Program includes three active missions (Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Opportunity rover) and three missions in development (Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled for launch this November, MAVEN, and the 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter), and is planning for future missions beyond those (including a possible 2018 rover and a Mars sample return mission). A Mars lander is also in the ongoing competition for the next opportunity in the Discovery program.

We work closely with our NASA HQ Program Executive, Lisa May, and our Program Scientist, Mary Mellott. They represent the project at NASA HQ to the MEP and the Planetary Science Division, and to the Science Mission Directorate as a whole. They work on a lot of issues related to the planning and implementation of MAVEN and to the interfaces between institutions and individuals.

NASA HQ assigns responsibility for the Mars Program to the Mars Program Office (MPO) located at JPL. The MPO oversees implementing the approved missions and planning and developing future missions. From MAVEN’s narrow perspective, they provide oversight of our technical progress and track issues that might affect (or be affected by) other components of the Mars Program. We work closely in these areas with Peter Doms, who is the MAVEN mission manager and our direct contact in the Mars Program Office. Peter and Lisa work closely together to ensure strong coordination between NASA HQ and the MPO. And the heads of the two offices—Doug McCuistion (MEP Program Director at NASA HQ) and Fuk Li (Mars Program Manager at JPL)—work together to ensure that the Mars Program as a whole runs smoothly.

Although MAVEN is a PI-led mission, responsibility for the project has been assigned to Goddard Space Flight Center. We work with the different groups at GSFC to ensure that we are adhering to appropriate engineering practices (which is a much broader task than it might seem at first) and to appropriate management and business practices. Our Project Manager interacts regularly with the Director of Flight Projects (George Morrow) and the Center Director (Rob Strain) and his Deputy (Rick Obenschain). They ensure that we have access to the resources we need at GSFC to implement the mission, and they help us to resolve technical and programmatic issues as they come up.

In addition, the project has an independent Standing Review Board, appointed with approval of NASA HQ and GSFC. The SRB consists of senior people who have previous experience in carrying out spacecraft missions. For instance, the SRB Chair, George Pace, was the Project Manager for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission. The SRB conducts reviews of our project at roughly yearly intervals, checking our progress and status against a NASA-wide set of rigorous standards and the Mars Exploration Program’s top-level requirements on MAVEN.

Yes, MAVEN is a PI-led mission. But we interact almost daily with our colleagues at NASA HQ and in the MPO. We’re responsible for implementing the mission safely and successfully, but a lot of coordination is necessary to ensure that we’re on track, that we identify and address problems early, and that we focus on the key issues. All of these groups are making significant contributions to the development of MAVEN, and are an important part of our team.