News of the WeekPlanetary Science

More Than Missing Metric Doomed Orbiter

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Science  08 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5438, pp. 207
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5438.207a

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Last month the Mars Climate Orbiter swooped in too low as it headed for Mars orbit, dipped too deeply into the atmosphere, and was never heard from again. Early investigations put the blame on a mismatch of units, with one team of flight engineers reporting measurements in English units that another team assumed were metric. Now observers are pointing to a variety of problems with the orbiter. Whatever the causes, three review panels are rushing to sort them out well before Mars Polar Lander, which may be susceptible to some of the same problems, arrives on 3 December.