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Gao Report: Nasa: Better Mechanisms Needed for Sharing Lessons Learned" Gao-02-195, January 30, 2002.

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Executive Summary

Purpose

In the early 1990s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator

challenged the agency to complete projects faster, better, and cheaper. The intent was to reduce

costs, become more efficient, and increase scientific results by conducting more and smaller

missions in less time. Although NASA maintained a high success rate under the faster, better,

and cheaper strategy, a few significant mission failures also occurred--particularly the loss of

the Mars Polar Lander and Climate Orbiter spacecraft. NASA investigations of these failures, as

well as its review of other programs, raised concern that lessons from past experiences were not

being applied to current programs and projects. At the request of the Chairman and Ranking

Minority Member, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, House Committee on Science,

GAO assessed whether NASA has adequate mechanisms in place to ensure that past lessons

learned from mission failures are being applied. Specifically, GAO (1) identified the policies,

procedures, and systems NASA has in place for lessons learning, (2) assessed how effectively

these policies, procedures, and systems facilitate lessons learning, and (3) determined whether

further efforts are needed to improve lessons learning.

Background

NASA's procedures and guidelines require that program and project managers review and apply

lessons learned from the past throughout a program's or project's life cycle and to document and

submit any significant lessons to the agency's Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS) in a

timely manner. NASA defines a lesson learned as knowledge or understanding gained by

experience. The experience may be positive, such as a successful test or mission, or negative,

such as a mishap or failure. A lesson must be significant in that it has a real or assumed impact

on operations; valid in that it is factually correct; and applicable in that it identifies a specific

design, process, or decision that reduces or eliminates the potential for failures

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