Tiger Team


A tiger team is a group of experts assigned to investigate and/or solve technical or systemic problems. The term may have originated in aerospace design but is also used in other settings, including information technology and emergency management. It has been described as ‘a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem.’ In security work, a tiger team is a specialized group that tests an organization’s ability to protect its assets by attempting to circumvent, defeat, or otherwise thwart that organization’s internal and external security. The term originated within the military to describe a team whose purpose is to penetrate security of ‘friendly’ installations to test security measures. It now more generally refers to any team that attacks a problem aggressively.

Many tiger teams are informally constituted through managerial edicts. One of these was set up in NASA circa 1966 to solve the ‘Apollo Navigation Problem. Technology at the time was unable to navigate Apollo at the level of precision mandated by the mission planners. Tests using radio tracking data were revealing errors of 2000 meters instead of the 200 that the mission required to safely land Apollo when descending from its lunar orbit. Five tiger teams were set up to find and correct the problem, one at each NASA center, from CalTech JPL in the west to Goddard SFC in the east. The Russians via Luna 10 were also well aware of this problem. The JPL found a solution in 1968; the problem was caused by the unexpectedly large local gravity anomalies on the moon arising from large ringed maria, mountain ranges and craters on the moon. This also led to the construction of the first detailed gravimetric map of a body other than the earth and the discovery of the lunar mass concentrations.

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