A Typo Can Cause $18 Million Dollars
It was just a missing hyphen
This story is from the era of the Cold War when the USSR and the USA were competing with one another to dominate the world in every possible way.
In 1957 the USSR took lead in space domination by successfully launching the first artificial satellite that encircled Earth for 2 months. The USA was shaken by this act and they had to do something about it.
With the Soviet Union leading the race of space domination, the USA was eager to launch more space missions. The USA came up with a space mission to launch Mariner 1. Mariner 1 was supposed to collect a variety of scientific data related to Venus as it was going flying close to the Earth.
The space probe was a failure and cost $18 million dollars and was considered one of the most expensive disasters in the space race.
How it all started
It was triggered by the success of the USSR’s Sputnik 1 mission. The idea of Mariner 1 was born to excel in the space race. Mariner 1 was built to assess the atmosphere of the red planet Mars and its magnetic field.
In the 1960s it was an aggressive mission. The satellite was expected to fly by Mars and take photos of its surface.
The story of the typo
The series of problems started with the rocket that was supposed to launch the probe. It failed to ignite.
Now came the chance of the missing hyphen. It screwed up trajectory calculations that made the probe go off course. It had to be destroyed. The team could figure out the problem shortly after the probe was launched. But there was no way to correct it.
Learning from these kinds of disasters
We often don’t value the testing of code that it deserves. This is a perfect example of a massive project failing because of a tiny typo that could have been caught in testing.
Back then it was hard to simulate such scenarios. Today, space agencies use various kinds of simulations to iron out such issues. Nevertheless, errors can still sneak in.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”
— Albert Einstein
Moreover, these incidents have given the foundation for more robust and advanced space programs that have succeeded to take us so far.