Old 07-27-2008, 11:29 AM Offline   #1 (permalink)

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Default Gallery: NASA's Most Embarrassing Goofs

</img>: Image courtesy NASAFrom equipment installed backwards to problems with the metric system, NASA's failures can be as fascinating as its successes. Of course, more cynical critics might suggest that NASA's failures overshadow its successes -- but let's see you send a ship to the moon.
That aside, NASA's in a difficult position: Charged with meeting America's spacefaring dreams on a shrinking budget, and perpetually judged against the magic of the moon landing, the agency is an easy target. And a few mistakes are inevitable: After all, Murphy's law was coined by an actual rocket scientist.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of NASA's most conspicuous, embarrassing (and non-fatal) gaffes.
Mars Observer

Left: The $1 billion Mars Observer, launched in 1992 with the aim of studying the red planet's terrain and climate, was supposed to be the first in a series of Observer missions. Instead it became the first in a series of Mars failures: Three days before its scheduled orbital entry, communications inexplicably and permanently ceased. It may now be orbiting Mars, though some wonder if it didn't blow past the planet and end up circling the Sun.
</img>: Image courtesy NASASix years after the Mars Observer disappeared, the Mars Climate Orbiter followed suit. This time, however, NASA knew what went wrong: Subcontracted engineers at Lockheed Martin used English units of measurement rather than the agency's favored metric system. The ensuing navigational mix-up sent the vehicle into a low-altitude orbit, where it was torn apart by atmospheric stresses.
</img>: Image courtesy NASAFinally: no mysterious silence, no goofball measurements! Nothing but 142 million miles of smooth sailing all the way from Earth to 40 meters above the red planet's surface. That's when the lander's computers misinterpreted a routine vibration as evidence of touchdown, cut the descent engines and sent the craft plummeting to destruction. Says NASA historian Steven Dick, "An unconfirmed theory is that the Martian air defenses are pretty good!"
</img>: Image courtesy NASAIn September of 2004, NASA's Genesis capsule returned to Earth with samples of solar wind -- a stream of electrons and protons from which scientists hoped to tease the secrets of the sun and our solar system. It was supposed to parachute gently back to Earth, where a helicopter would snag it mid-air before any jarring impact could dislodge the precious solar particles. But the Genesis' parachute failed to open, sending the craft and its ethereal cargo slamming straight into the Utah desert. Agency investigators later found that its deceleration sensors were installed backwards.
</img>: Image courtesy NASANot long after the Genesis face-plant, parachutes on this Jupiter probe also failed to deploy when a cross-wired pair of accelerometers fed each other the wrong data. Just in the nick of time, however, the chutes opened. Whew!
</img>: Image courtesy DARTThe DART -- or Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology -- was supposed to show off NASA's navigational precision. It wouldn't just hook up with another planet, but would dock with an orbiting communications satellite. This delicate dance turned destructive on its October 2004 test run, when DART collided with the satellite. NASA delayed its report for a year, then unleashed a scathing indictment citing a "lack of training and experience," schedule pressure, bad software coding and breakdowns in responsibility.
</img>: Image courtesy NASAThough human error and institutional incompetence underlie many NASA failures, nature hasn't always been kind, either. In 1987, an Atlas-Centaur rocket was hit by lightning within moments of launch. It spun out of control and had to be destroyed.
This image shows lighting striking the space shuttle Challenger, not an Atlas-Centaur.
</img>: Photo: Associated PressNot all of NASA's mistakes are vehicular, or even involve rocket science: A launch-site banner celebrating the July 2007 takeoff of the space shuttle Endeavour, christened in honor of explorer James Cook's famous vessel, misspelled its name as "Endeavor."
</img>: Image courtesy NASAThe Hubble Space Telescope -- the most technologically advanced eye ever turned toward the heavens -- was launched in 1990 after nearly two decades of planning, research and delays. Only then did scientists realize that its mirror was incorrectly ground. There is, however, a happy ending to the story: A dramatic 1993 in-space repair mission restored the Hubble's vision, and its subsequent insights into our universe have been boundless. The image shown here is of the Carina nebula, taken by the Hubble.


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