Mars Spacecraft was Lost in Translation

NASA lost its $125-million Mars Climate Orbiter because spacecraft engineers failed to convert from English to metric measurements when exchanging vital data before the craft was launched, space agency officials said.

A navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used the metric system of millimeters and meters in its calculations, while Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, which designed and built the spacecraft, provided crucial acceleration data in the English system of inches, feet, and pounds.

As a result, JPL engineers mistook acceleration readings measured in English units of pound-seconds for a metric measure of force called newton-seconds.

In a sense, the spacecraft was lost in translation.

Mars Climate Orbiter

From 1998:


Talking Astronomy with my Friend in Nairobi, Kenya

Illumination of Earth by Sun at the northern s...
Illumination of Earth by Sun at the northern solstice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[10:55:03 AM] Peter Bakke: Still rainy there?
[10:55:35 AM] Brighton : Yes, this is normally a wet month till August
[10:55:47 AM] Peter Bakke: Send some my way haha
[10:55:50 AM] Brighton : It will be raining every day
[10:57:28 AM] Peter Bakke: Question: based on my knowledge of astronomy, when you look at the sun [when you can see it haha] this time of year, is it about 2 fists at arm length [23 degrees] north of directly overhead. Am I right?
[10:57:49 AM] Peter Bakke: It is in the north
[10:57:58 AM] Brighton : Yes, you are right
[10:58:03 AM] Peter Bakke: woo hoo !
[10:58:23 AM] Peter Bakke: I’ve NEVER seen the sun in that position.
[10:58:32 AM] Peter Bakke: never been near the equator
[10:58:45 AM] Brighton: I see, you are an expert in astronomy
[10:59:18 AM] Peter Bakke: … Astronomy is a hobby that one can conduct thought experiments with every day (night) – which I love.
[10:59:20 AM] Brighton : Welcome to Kenya, You will be seeing the sun over the head every day
[11:00:16 AM] Peter Bakke: haha – yes! +/- 23 degrees from directly overhead… in 6 months the sun will be the same distance to the south…. Astronomy is a cool, free game full of

predictions and confirmations!

Equinox mix up at New York Times

Letter to Editor, New York Times:

In your beautifully written New York Times article about the vernal equinox, entitled
The Tilted Earth at Its ‘Equal Night of Spring’,” author Natalie Angier is incorrect when she makes the following observation:

“Twice a year …. If you could imagine being on the Sun and looking out toward our imaginary-skewered Earth, it would be like looking at a ball of yarn with a knitting needle
stuck through it, in perfect profile.”

This hypothetical view from the sun is only possible at the soltices, not
the equinoxes, when by optical illusion the “knitting needle ” appears
straight up and down ( unlike your diagrams, the “needle” is in fact tilted either
away or towards the sun at 23.5 degrees.

In actuality, at the equinoxes (the focus of the article), the “knitting
needle” would appear, from the sun, to be skewed left or right at its maximum tilt
angle of 23.5 degrees, depending on the season.

The olive (earth) in your illustration therefore misinforms your readers.
The primary problem is that the article references a hypothetical view of
earth from the sun, whereas the illustration is from an entirely different
perspective – out in space looking at both the earth and the sun. Again, the needle should be tilted 23.5 degrees, not straight up and down.

Unfortunately, you are using two poor illustrations that add nothing to Natalie’s narrative, other than confusing the actual mechanics that are actually in play.

Other than this technicality, a most delightful article!
basics.1.600 Basics.600.2
Pictures Source: NYT