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Martin Marietta adopts quality improvement plan


Martin Marietta Corp. workers celebrated earlier this month when an Atlas rocket lifted off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and placed the company's Telstar 4 satellite into orbit. It was the latest in a series of nine consecutive successful space events.

But the company hasn't forgotten the troubles its Space Group experienced earlier this year when it suffered a rash of costly and embarrassing failures: Yesterday it began implementing a series of changes recommended by a panel that was appointed in October to review its operational, technical and management systems.

The 10-member panel was chaired by James Sterhardt, a retired Martin Marietta executive, and consisted of members from industry and government.

The recommendations include:

* Strengthening of system engineering, which is the process of designing and ordering of the thousands of parts that go into a rocket or satellite and then bring them together for final assembly.

* Establishing formal mission success offices in all operating units of the company. This would involve a person with sole responsibility to check that everything is done according to specifications.

* Expansion of an existing product integrity engineering system. In this system, responsibility for a certain piece of software or hardware is assigned to a single person who is to make sure it works the way it is supposed to throughout the assembly process.

* Additional employee training so that workers are better prepared to detect problems and know what steps to take in calling attention to the problem.

Charles P. Manor, a Martin spokesman, said the panel was not established to find out what went wrong with individual space missions, but was to look at company procedures and suggest ways to correct them.

"Our overall objective," said Mr. Manor, "is to do it right the first time."

Martin Marietta established the review panel after a series of mission failures that included a Titan IV rocket blowing up in August.

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