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On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet. 1958-1978

[216] Selection of a contractor to build the lander and to supervise integration of the lander and orbiter and integration of the spacecraft and launch vehicle paralleled in time the selection of the scientific experiments. On 28 February 1969. Langley Research Center issued a request for proposals on the design and fabrication of the lander and project integration. In addition to the 20 firms directly solicited for this procurement, 12 others requested and were sent copies of the proposal package. Technical and managerial proposals were submitted to NASA by the Boeing Company, McDonnell Douglas Corporation, and Martin Marietta Corporation. All three companies had conducted studies earlier for Jim Martin's Titan Mars 1973 team. In the process, they had developed an enthusiasm for and an expertise in the design of Mars landers.
In April the Source Evaluation Board began with an appraisal of the written proposals and visited the production facilities of each of the three potential builders, where members of the board spoke at length with company representatives. As Administrator Thomas O. Paine noted in his report on the contractor selection process, the board furnished written questions to each firm before its visit. The companies were advised that the questions covered deficiencies and omissions as well as proposal ambiguities and that they were being given an opportunity to support, clarify, correct, or make revisions. After the visits, the board made its final rankings in May 1969.
Martin Marietta received the highest overall final rating; its cost proposal was between those of the other two bidders. The Denver-based division's technical proposal was well organized, according to the judges on the board; its strong points were "outstanding mission analysis and plans for maximum science return, the communications system, the terminal descent radar analysis, a common deorbit and descent engine, and landing gear design." Weak points included "the power system design and uncertain subsonic stability of the aerodynamic configuration." NASA specialists believed these to be "readily correctable" problems, and Martin Marietta suggested that the inflatable-balloon decelerator (ballute) and parachute combination, which had been proposed for slowing and stabilizing the lander once it was separated from its aeroshell, be replaced by a more conventional parachute.
Boeing received the second highest overall ranking and offered the lowest cost. Boeing's proposal contained "a well-conceived mechanical design, a redundant and flexible communications system, and an excellent plan for launch and flight operations." Proposal weaknesses centered on a method suggested for dealing with the scientific instruments and the investigators, the power system design, and deorbit propulsion. The latter two areas would require "major proposal revisions." according to the source board. Boeing had planned to join forces with General Electric and Hughes Aircraft Company-GE as the subcontractor for entry, power, data handling, [217] and attitude control systems; Hughes as the subcontractor for terminal landing subsystems, terminal guidance and control, terminal propulsion, and landing gear. While the combination of these three companies offered much "specialized experience" and while the Boeing-GE-Hughes team plan was well organized, NASA officials thought there were "potential management and operational problems" in this arrangement. 28
McDonnell Douglas, with the highest cost estimate, was ranked third. Technical weaknesses outweighed the strengths of its proposal. And the potential strength of its management team was outweighed by its decentralized facilities, which were not as well suited for Viking as those at Martin Marietta or Boeing.
Following the Source Evaluation Board presentations, Paine met with a few key NASA employees to obtain their views on the board's findings. Administrator Paine, Associate Administrator Homer E. Newell, and NASA General Counsel Paul G. Dembling subsequently met and agreed to award the contract to Martin Marietta. 29 Paine explained that his choice for the lander contractor was influenced by the fact that the firm had "applicable company experience, technical capability and the most outstanding facilities. . . .which are specially tailored to Viking requirements." Martin Marietta's participation in early Voyager activities and its decision to maintain a team effort with more than 100 persons during the 1967-1969 period had "established a strong and highly motivated" group from the top management down through the working personnel. 30
On 29 May 1969, Paine announced that NASA planned to award a cost-plus incentive-fee/award-fee contract for $280 million. 31 The lander system as proposed by the contractor was technically evaluated by the engineers at Langley to identify changes that should be made before the formal contract negotiations between NASA and Martin Marietta began. These alterations were documented in a "shopping list" of 18 items over which Langley and the new contractor negotiated. With the changes, the contract figure totaled $299.1 million in the contract approved by Paine 20 October. Martin Marietta's fee was targeted at $14.52 million, but the incentive provision permitted the company to earn more money if the contract was concluded at less than the projected cost of $299.1 million and it penalized the company for any cost overruns. For every dollar above the target, Martin Marietta would lose 15 cents from the fee, while any cost savings would bring an additional reward of 15 cents per dollar. 32
The statement of work that accompanied the contract for "Viking lander system and project integration" was kept as general as practical so that the number of changes in the contract would be kept to a minimum. Other large NASA projects like Gemini and Apollo had produced thousands of contract modifications. David B. Ahearn in the Langley Procurement Division would ensure that the work was done properly, but with a minimum of paperwork. During the life of the contract, the number of alterations made in that document numbered about 300. 33

[Whole page 218] The Viking lander design went through a number of versions in 1968 and1969. Above one of the four-legged configurations presented at the Viking science instrument team's meeting 10-20 February 1968 was to be powered by radioisotope generator and battery. One not shown arrayed solar cells on the lander's flat top to provide power. Although RTGs posed heat problems, the Viking Project Office preferred them. Below, the three-legged September 1969 design added a second camera for stereophotography amd moved the meteorology instrument to the high-gain antenna mast.

[219] Very early in the contract, a major modification, made necessary by the two-year launch-date slip, was negotiated between NASA and Martin Marietta. On 13 January 1970 following the administrator's unexpected announcement of the change in plans for Viking, the Langley Research Center Contracting Office notified the contractors to stop all work authorized under the contract. That week, meetings at JPL, Martin Marietta, and Langley began reprogramming for the new game plan. Martin Marietta studied two possible alternatives for a 1975 launch (table 40). 34

Table 40

AIternatives for 1975 Viking Launch

Option A:

Option B:

Viking 1973 Mission Slipped to 1975 Opportunity

Direct Entry, Lander Mission in 1975

Orbiter-lander-Titan III-Centaur

Lander-relay module-Titan III-Centaur

1973 management and contractor team

1973 lander contractor to supply relay module

1973 science and scientists

1973 science and scientists

Type II trajectory

Type II trajectory

Use added time to minimize technical risk, optimize hardware use, minimize schedule risk, and minimize cost.


FY 1969, 1970, 1971 funds held to $87.5 million.


First priority in study

Second priority in study

By mid-February, the Viking Project Office authorized Martin Marietta to proceed with the first option and lifted the stop-work order. Through the end of fiscal 1971 (30 June), only $87.427 million would be made available for the project, so Martin Marietta would not be able to hire as many persons as planned. Nor would it be able to increase employment levels as rapidly as it had hoped under the 1973 schedule. JPL also had to make changes in its manpower projections. Although Martin Marietta would employs smaller total number during the life of the lander contract, those who did work on Viking would be employed for a longer time. As a consequence, the total cost of the lander grew by another $44 million (see also graphs in appendix C.) 35
The immediately apparent increase caused by the shift from a 1973 to a 1975 launch was $141 million. While other factors would drive Viking costs.....


Table 41

Viking Cost Increases Because of Launch Delay (in millions, as of June 1970)

Viking 1973
Viking 1975
(as of June 1970)













[220].....even higher, the economics of delaying the project two years to meet the political pressures on the fiscal 1971 budget were expensive for NASA and American taxpayers.