Space Shuttle:

NASA Should Implement Independent Oversight of Software Development

IMTEC-91-20: Published: Feb 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1991.

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Samuel W. Bowlin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO obtained information on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) efforts to improve shuttle software oversight activities and identified: (1) NASA procedures for developing, validating, verifying, and reconfiguring shuttle software; (2) an independent NASA contractor's recommendations for verification and validation (V&V) of shuttle software; (3) NASA progress in implementing the recommendations; and (4) NASA resolution of the National Research Council's (NRC) and the shuttle program's software steering group's concerns about the V&V process.

GAO found that NASA: (1) agreed to respond to NRC and congressional concerns about independent V&V for shuttle software development, but had not yet committed to it and had moved slowly in establishing V&V policies and documenting existing V&V practices; (2) expanded its V&V contract with an independent contractor, but implemented only 6 of the contractor's 219 recommendations; (3) planned to phase out the contract in 1991 because it believed that the contractor's recommendations added little value and the contractor identified either insignificant problems or problems NASA would have identified through its own quality assurance process; (4) addressed some V&V issues raised by the shuttle software steering group, but felt that the program already had sufficient oversight and independence; and (5) contended that current software V&V practices provided adequate independence between software developers and acquirers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA has reconvened the software steering group to establish V&V policy for the shuttle program. NASA published its flight software V&V requirements on November 21, 1991. Responsibility for monitoring compliance with the requirements is assigned to safety and quality assurance functions.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should: (1) require independent V&V for shuttle software, bearing in mind the views of NRC, the House Committee, the software steering group, and NASA-wide guidance; and (2) ensure that the independent V&V organization is outside the control of the shuttle program office.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The steering group reconvened in May 1991. The recommendation is being implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should bring to closure the issues raised by the software steering group concerning policy and documentation of V&V activities. In this regard, he should require the steering group to provide formal recommendations and require the program office to provide time frames for addressing them.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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