This is a post on the TriStar Site.

Do you remember back in 1998, when NASA sent the Mars Climate Orbiter to study the atmosphere of the red planet? The Orbiter was also supposed to become a relay station for sending signals back to Earth from the Polar Lander, and hopes were high for a thorough examination of the planet.

There was much hoopla at liftoff, but utter dismay when NASA flight controllers lost communication with the Orbiter. After a review, it turned out that the probe burned up in Mars’ upper atmosphere because of a units error: One program was sending data in non-metric, English system pounds instead of the metric newtons that another program was expecting. This miscalculation caused the Orbiter to pass too close to Mars and disintegrate.

The headlines were disastrous: Metric Confusion, NASA Flub, Probe Lost Due to Simple Math Error, and Math Goof Crashed NASA Probe. A contractor ultimately took responsibility for failing to do a units conversion check, but the image of the space program nosedived.

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