Features

Bill Jackson, Deputy Director, NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility, Fairmont, WV


NTB: How could IV&V technology and protocols be applied commercially?

Jackson: The only change to what we would do is the definition of what the mission-critical aspects of the software would be. If you have a financial system, it has different end-goals that define what makes it critical than those of human space flight. But all our processes would be identical to what on goes on in the commercial world.

That’s one of the reasons we’ve had dialogue — more an information-share — with other government agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and our counterparts with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency.

NTB: What are the goals of IV&V?

Jackson: Our number-one objective is to satisfy NASA’s needs. What that means is, we deliver high-quality IV&V services, analysis, and early identification of errors, making sure we have the right coverage so we can assure that the software will work. We want to be a pre-eminent leader in the discipline of software IV&V, and that’s the reason we look for opportunities to dialogue and collaborate with other agencies, both international and US government agencies in activities that will help us both learn.

One of our basic goals is to be recognized as a leader in the world of independent verification and validation, and so we’re always looking to share our knowledge and techniques with the rest of the people that are developing software that is critical to their mission ends.

We have a research component that is looking to advance the state of the art in how we do independent verification and validation of software. We have initiatives that cut across industry, all of NASA, and the academic world to help us identify the needs new methodologies, and tools to help sell some of the existing processes, and what may be down the road, in terms of how NASA builds missions. One of the things we did here over the last three years is that NASA has started to get into artificial intelligence-type expert system neural networks, and those end up with non-deterministic solutions coming out of the software, which is something brand new for us. So we invested about three years in a research initiative to get us started, so that five or 10 years down the road, if NASA moves over to more employing of non-deterministic projects, we’ll have a pretty good idea how do to the IV&V on those new technologies.

The last goal, and I don’t mean to trivialize this, is outreach. We feel an obligation to the community, especially in West Virginia, to stimulate students to want to pursue technical careers. We have an Educator Resource Center to train teachers in how to teach students. As part of that outreach, we are planning to have 900 7th-graders from all over northern West Virginia here to get some hands-on experiences with NASA. We’re going to have an astronaut talking to them; we do this once a year as part of IV&V’s outreach activities.

NTB: Goddard oversees IV&V; how do the two entities integrate?

Jackson: Goddard is the organization. We are Code 180 in Goddard. Goddard provides us with institutional resources, like where we get our HR activities, procurement activities, and the kinds of things that enable us to go do the work. We report out in a programmatic sense to Goddard on a monthly basis, like the rest of the programs at Goddard. The functional management of the IV&V program is actually vested in the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA Headquarters. They allocated it to Goddard; Goddard assigned this organization, the NASA IV&V Facility. Goddard does some overseeing on a monthly basis.

NTB: How has IV&V met NASA’s reorganization?

Jackson: That really didn’t affect us much at all. We were already functioning at agency-level, across all mission directorates. The challenge we have, which is the same challenge the rest of NASA has, is from about fiscal year ’08 through fiscal year ’10, when we are trying to build the space station, continuing to fly the shuttle, and start to build the Constellation pieces. There is a lot of demand for resources during that period. That’s one of the challenges we have now, is to figure out for that three-year period how we’re going to deal with the resources that NASA has allotted to us. We’ll have a little different philosophy in how we do things over that three-year period until the shuttle program ends in 2010.

And then it will be Constellation. This year, we started working. We have some civil servants that are working now. We’ll probably bring in some contractors in the Spring, and start gearing up to support the Constellation mission. The official date for Constellation’s launch is 2014, even though they are trying to push that back in.

For more information, contact Bill Jackson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .