Thursday, 25 June 2015
Yesterday I had a discussion with an old friend - an analyst - about the problems of 'garbage in garbage out'; that if you provide duff information, don't expect to get back good analysis and useful recommendations. I'm currently writing the very last chapter of the book and the subject is evaluation. It's kind of hard to make such dry subjects as monitoring, assessement and review interesting, but there are always stories that can help. Like this one:
In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft catastrophically crashed into the planet it was supposed to orbit. A navigation error arose because the people who had built the ship’s thrusters had set them to receive instructions in Metric Newtons while the onboard computer was programmed to send information to the thrusters in Imperial Pounds. This meant that the thrusters misfired by a factor of 4.45% causing the plunge into the Martian atmosphere.
During the probe’s 12 month flight, there were several indications that things weren’t quite right but they were ignored or missed. The cost of not checking and re-checking the veracity of the data coming in from the spacecraft was total loss; an expensive mistake at $327.6 million.
Which reminds me of a gag by Scottish stand-up Frankie Boyle who, in 2004 and after the ill-fated Beagle 2 probe failed to respond on landing, said: ‘See that Mars probe that successfully crash-landed on Mars? To me it’s not successful if it’s crashed. That’s a bit like saying that you’ve swum the channel because your corpse gets washed up on a beach.’