The mystifying meter

October 04, 1999

Here is an excerpt of an editorial from the San Francisco Examiner, which was published Friday.

STRUGGLING MATH students warned us the metric system would never fly in this country, and it looks like they were right.

It turns out that the recent disintegration of the Mars Climate Orbiter is being blamed on a mix-up about measurements.

One team working on the spacecraft used familiar-as-old-shoes feet and inches. The other team's calculations were based on the metric system.

The never-ending competition between meters and feet added up to a $125 million mistake. The error caused the Mars Climate Orbiter to fly too close to the planet, hitting the thin Martian atmosphere and breaking up. Typically, meters are used in navigating spacecraft and scientific studies. But NASA officials say they won't point fingers. They'll just work to make sure such a mistake doesn't happen again.

Meanwhile, if the metric system is going to continue to be the language of science, the school systems are going to have to convert those struggling students who grow up to build rockets.

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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