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NASA Loses Climate Orbiter (Updated!) - Windows to the Universe

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Artist's depiction of the Mars Climate Orbiter.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

NASA Loses Climate Orbiter (Updated!)
News story originally written on October 4, 1999

The loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter has turned into a nightmare for NASA. The agency says an error in measurements caused the disaster.

The problem occurred when a team at Lockheed Martin submitted acceleration data in pounds of force. Unfortunately, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory assumed the numbers were in metric newtons. In other words, there was a mistake made in the units.

``It was embedded in the system from the beginning,'' said Tom Gavin, deputy director of JPL's space and Earth science program. ``We're still looking at why it was not detected.''

The spacecraft was lost when it flew too close to the Red Planet. It was supposed to study Mars' climate for 687 days. Scientists believe the orbiter burned up in Mars' atmosphere.

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