This Day In Astro History

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2015 image from Cassini mission
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Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech
Mars Climate Orbiter Lost

Luna 16

September 24

1999 - Mars Climate Orbiter Lost.  Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) was to occur at an altitude of 140 km but hours before the MOI bipropellant engine burn the JPL team worried about a navigation error that was bringing the orbiter to a 57 kms altitude, 83 kms beneath the intended orbit. Later analysis found that a navigation error occurred when a translation from Imperial units to Metric units was incorrect.  "The desaturation of the reaction wheels does impart a small force on the spacecraft, and has to be accounted for in the navigation. Lockheed Martin, who built the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft, provided the reaction wheel data to the JPL navigators.  JPL does its navigation work exclusively using the  metric system, and Lockheed was required to provide the data in metric units. They instead provided the data in imperial units.  Even though the force of the desaturation of the reactions wheels was small, desaturations were done frequently during the cruise period of the orbiter (~9 months), and the error from using imperial units accumulated over time.  Also, JPL does share in the blame in the loss of the orbiter, as JPL should have detected the use of imperial units by Lockheed." (Ron Baalke)

    The Mars Surveyor Program, NASA, JPL and Caltech, launched the Mars Climate Orbiter on December 11, 1998.  The Orbiter was to provide command and data relay support for the Mars Lander phase then being its mapping phase, during which systematic daily global sounding of the atmosphere and imaging of the surface was to be performed for one Mars year (687 days). But this mission is only one of a series of planned missions to the Red Planet, each capable of doing science. 

1970 - First unmanned, automated return of lunar material to the earth, the Soviet's Luna 16
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It is my conclusion that human evolution and the motions of matter in space are intrinsically linked. The observation and understanding of the complexity of biological history on Earth cannot be complete without the tandem observation and understanding of a dynamic greater cosmos. - SpaceGene