A Simple Mistake

Hi {subscriber_first_name}

I thought you might enjoy reading about my favourite mistake of all time, detailed in this excerpt from a Wired News Report, dated 30th September 1999:

“People sometimes make errors,” said Dr. Edward Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for space science.

NASA officials said a simple miscommunication over different measurement standards — metric versus US — by teams controlling its Mars Climate Orbiter likely caused last week’s loss of the spacecraft.

“The peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team used English units [inches, feet and pounds] while the other used metric units for a key spacecraft operation,” said a statement released Thursday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

NASA officials said that the mix-up caused the craft to draw to within 60 km of the Mars surface instead of the expected 150 km, ruining the mission.

“Our inability to recognize and correct this simple error has had major implications,” said Dr. Edward Stone, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA spent approximately US$94 million to build the Orbiter.

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