[21.May.2021] Lost in Martian translation… Martian Math translation
Imagine creating a 125 million $ product and crashing it beyond recognition because of a misunderstanding, all while the whole world was watching!
This exact situation happened in 1999, after almost 10 months of travel to Mars, the Mars Climate Orbiter burned and broke into pieces. On a day when NASA engineers were expecting to celebrate, the reality turned out to be completely different, all because someone failed to use the right metric units!
The Mars Climate Orbiter was a 638-kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on December 11, 1998 to study the Martian climate, Martian atmosphere, and surface changes.
Thrusters used to help point the spacecraft had, over the course of months, been fired incorrectly because data used to control the wheels were calculated in incorrect units. Therefore, the craft was sent slowly off course 60 miles. It got dangerously close to the planet’s atmosphere where it burned and broke into pieces.
Lockheed Martin Astronautics, which designed and built the spacecraft, was sending thruster data in English units (pounds) to NASA, while NASA's navigation team was expecting metric units (Newtons). In a sense, the spacecraft was lost in translation.
When working with units Mathcad is an excellent tool. Let’ use an example to calculate what is the force on the Mars surface, for an 80 kg person with 20 pounds of equipment?
When units are not compatible, Mathcad will show an error so you are never lost in translation with your calculations.
The original raw photo, first of its kind
Bonus info for reading this far….
At a lecture in Sweden JPL NASA shared with one of our colleagues, that when they realized the craft was of course, they tried to correct the software, but unfortunately lost contact.
However, before loss of communication, the craft was turned around, and took an amazing photo. The original raw photo, we are sharing with you is the first 90-degree angle photo, taken of Earth and the Moon lit up by the Sun.
Source: JPL NASA