Lucas Layman, Allen P. Nikora, Joshua Meek, Tim Menzies
L. Layman, A. P. Nikora, J. Meek, and T. Menzies, “Topc Modeling of NASA Space System Problem Reports,” in Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mining Software Repositories (MSR ’16), (Austin, TX), pp. 303-314, 2016
Publication year: 2016

Problem reports at NASA are similar to bug reports: they capture defects found during test, post-launch operational anomalies, and document the investigation and corrective action of the issue. These artifacts are a rich source of lessons learned for NASA, but are expensive to analyze since problem reports are comprised primarily of natural language text. We apply topic modeling to a corpus of NASA problem reports to extract trends in testing and operational failures. We collected 16,669 problem reports from six NASA space flight missions and applied Latent Dirichlet Allocation topic modeling to the document corpus. We analyze the most popular topics within and across missions, and how popular topics changed over the lifetime of a mission. We find that hardware material and flight software issues are common during the integration and testing phase, while ground station software and equipment issues are more common during the operations phase. We identify a number of challenges in topic modeling for trend analysis: 1) that the process of selecting the topic modeling parameters lacks definitive guidance, 2) defining semantically-meaningful topic labels requires nontrivial effort and domain expertise, 3) topic models derived from the combined corpus of the six missions were biased toward the larger missions, and 4) topics must be semantically distinct as well as cohesive to be useful. Nonetheless, topic modeling can identify problem themes within missions and across mission lifetimes, providing useful feedback to engineers and project managers.