Administrator Sean O’Keefe today announced that
Chief Engineer Theron M. Bradley Jr. will lead a team to
investigate the apparent loss of the CONTOUR mission space
probe. The investigation team will independently examine all
aspects of the CONTOUR mission, which has been out of contact
with controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md., since a scheduled
engine firing Aug. 15.

In May, Bradley joined the agency as Chief Engineer to
provide independent technical review of NASA’s programs and
projects. He’s a distinguished U.S. Navy engineer who was
instrumental in the initial design of the nuclear propulsion
plant for Nimitz class aircraft carriers and the advanced
reactor design for Los Angeles class submarines. Bradley also
served as a civilian with the U.S. Department of Energy and
the Department of Defense in numerous leadership and
management positions.

The team will include a team of internal NASA investigators
from space science, as well as other aerospace disciplines,
and external experts with extensive experience in accident
examinations. The group is expected to report its initial
findings to NASA Headquarters in six to eight weeks.

Among the team members selected to work with Bradley are
retired Navy Admirals J. Paul Reason and Joseph Lopez.

Admiral Reason is a member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety
Advisory Panel (ASAP). He’s an aerospace consultant and
former four-star Commander in Chief of the U.S. Navy’s
Atlantic Fleet. The ASAP was established by Congress in
January 1967 after the Apollo 204 Command and Service Module
spacecraft fire and is chartered to review, evaluate and
advise on agency program activities, systems, procedures and
management policies that contribute to risk, and to provide
identification and assessment for the NASA Administrator.

Admiral Lopez is one of the two flag officers in the U.S.
Navy to achieve the rank of four-star admiral after direct
commission from enlisted service. The retired admiral is the
former commander of NATO forces in southern Europe and has
played a leadership role in numerous accident investigations.
He currently directs Global Government Operations as an
executive with Houston-based KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root).

On Aug. 15, CONTOUR’s STAR 30 solid-propellant rocket motor
was programmed to ignite at 4:49 a.m. EDT, giving CONTOUR
enough boost to escape Earth’s orbit. At that time, CONTOUR
was about 140 miles above the Indian Ocean and out of radio
contact with controllers. The CONTOUR mission operations team
at APL expected to regain contact at approximately 5:35 a.m.
EDT to confirm the burn, but NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN)
antennas did not acquire a signal.

Since then, there has been no contact with CONTOUR. Commands
pre-programmed into the spacecraft’s flight computer system,
designed to instruct the spacecraft to try various alternate
methods of contacting Earth when contact is lost, also have
not worked to date.

Images from a Spacewatch ground-based telescope at Kitt Peak,
Ariz., show three objects at the location where CONTOUR was
predicted to be, images which may indicate the spacecraft has
broken apart. Mission controllers at APL will continue
listening for signals from the spacecraft periodically until
early December, when CONTOUR will come into a more favorable
angle for receiving a signal from Earth.

CONTOUR is a Discovery-class mission to explore the nucleus
of comets. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Joseph Veverka
of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who selected APL to
build the spacecraft and manage the mission for NASA.

Additional information about CONTOUR is available on the
Internet at: