Early in the morning at 09:26:16 Universal Time (UT) on July 27, 1962, the Mariner 1 spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
293 seconds later the Range Safety Officer issued the command to destroy the vehicle after it had veered off course. It was determined that steering the vehicle was impossible due to a malfunction and a crash was eminent, possibly in shipping lanes or an inhabited area.
The command to destroy the vehicle came only six seconds prior to the point of no return after which separation would take place and destruction would no longer be possible. The radio transponder continued to transmit signals for 64 seconds after the destruct command had been sent.
The mission of the Mariner 1 was the first ever flyby of the planet Venus. Mariner 1, if successful, would have went on to by the first man-made object to fly by another planet and would have performed missions like measure the temperatures of the clouds and surface of Venus as well as fields and particles near the planet and in interplanetary space.
Luckily there was a backup. Mariner 2 was launched just five weeks later and completed the mission and became the world’s first successful interplanetary spacecraft on December 14, 1962, when it passed within 34,833 kilometers from the surface of Venus.
This incident may not ring a bell for most people, but if you are a computer programmer chances are slightly better that you may have heard about it. It turns out that the reason Mariner 1 was a single misplaced character in a computer program!
A hyphen, a hyphen. My kingdom for a hyphen!
According to the NASA web site, “the Mariner 1 Post Flight Review Board determined that the omission of a hyphen in coded computer instructions in the data-editing program allowed transmission of incorrect guidance signals to the spacecraft.”
I feel for that computer programmer. I really do. Been there done that. 🙂
For a variety of reasons the exact cause remains murky to this day although the Post Flight Review Board did issue a finding it was at least in part due to a hyphen.
And I thought my job was high pressure. 🙂
Click here if you’d like to learn more about what we know about the failure of Mariner 1.
Yes and you have been there done that again ….”launched just fix weeks later” . blaahahahhaha sorry, my bad?
Woot! Luckily no lives hang in the balance when I post. In the case of Mariner 1 it was only money and embarrassment.
LOL! Good eye, good eye!
Hey, I never knew that NASA made something that flew by Venus! I thought we’d only done the moon and Mars…
I love that it was a hyphen that made it all go wrong. I’m not all that computer-savvy, but I DO know that in coding every single character counts, and the merest error can make the program not work or work in a different [i.e. WRONG] way.
I thought perhaps one of the vacuum tubes in their high speed computer burned up. If only they’d had something super powerful like the later Vic 20 everything might have gone well.
Another conspiracy theory is that it was the evil crime organization CATS covertly referenced to in the game Zero Wing. The intercepted communication was something like this:
Captain: What happen?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s You!
CATS: How are you gentlemen
CATS: All your base are belong to us!
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say?
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time. Hahahahaha.
Then boom. Up went the Mariner. Word is they’re still around and hiding out somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico committing acts of sabotage.
Classic! “All your base are belong to us.” I love that line!
Quite true. I think the Vic-20 would have been a big step up!
Hard to believe such a small typo could create such a big disaster – you’d think they’d double and triple check the code before launching something like that..
[…] time, however, the interesting thing is, just like the Venus Mariner that had to be destroyed shortly after launch, WordPress says the problem was caused by a […]