NASA: It would cost $370 million to convert to metric

The shuttles that NASA uses to fly to space currently use measurements in the form of pounds and feet as opposed to the more widely adopted meters and newtons. The upcoming shuttle replacement will continue to use the imperial measurement system because it would cost NASA $370 million dollars to convert to the "'International System' of units".

In 2009 a launch to put a shuttle into orbit costs approximately $759 million dollars and to spend half the budget of a launch to convert units of measure can not be justified because it will produce no gain for the agency or the shuttle occupants.

To convert to a new system of measurement is not as easy as it sounds. NASA has formulas crafted in Excel that are thousands of lines long that are able to give measurement and predictions in almost any type of circumstance. Changing such formulas and re-verifying their accuracy is a long timely process that no one at NASA wants to undertake.

NASA's Constellation program will replace the aging shuttle in the next decade but an exact timeframe has not been set as the testing of a new rocket system will take years to perfect in order to give our astronauts the safest possible journey to the heavens above.

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OMG!!! How hard can it be to convert software to use metric measurements?
Get over yourselves. Everyone here thinks everything in the world revolves around software? Yeah, it's possible to convert the design software calculations to use the metric system but do you all think that's the only cost involved?
What about the cost of re-tooling manufacturing machinery spread around hundreds, if not thousands of contractors?

Also, floating point errors can also come into it when you are converting, as computers usually only use floating point so they can keep the digits down (20 digits if im right) and if its not the full figure, then you leave yourself open to a calculation error said above.
Unless NASA use some computers that magically dont use floating point method of calculation then they might be ok, but thats my reasoning on the matter anyways.

I thought NASA was always using metric o_O
But things like trig measurements, say an angle difference of even .00001 degree but done over say 50000000 miles compared with 80x10^6 KM suddenly becomes the difference between hitting a target or ending up lost in space forever.
NASA budget is some ridiculous amount so 370mill dosent seem alot to get things done right.

NASA do use metric, but this is a case of things built before sometime between 1980 and 1990 such as the space shuttle. It is not trivial to change things. Anything new they use metric. This caused the loss of a mars orbiter when contractor lockhead martin failed to use metric units as they were contracted to do.

Australia made the switch to metric in 1970, however there is still a legacy of anything drawn before then which still has plans in imperial units. The US still insisting on using imperial sized engineering materials makes for compatibility issues integrating US built systems into European and Australian systems. This is a huge cost, and for at the least construction and engineering in the US to make a full change to SI units would make a huge difference in their international relations.

Maybe I'm a neanderthal but considering that they already spend a buttload of money on sending broken shuttles into orbit, why wouldn't they do this regardless of cost? Do they need to keep up the impression of being a little subpar?

Yes the metric system has may superiorities but I don't think you can call people idiots or tell them they are wrong for using the imperial system.

In school I learned both, very well and all my classmates were able to use both as well. Metric was far easier to do math with and conversions like area to volume were amazing.

Perhaps, we are behind in our measurements but its working fine I use inches, pounds, and gallons on a daily basis and when the time comes I will make the switch.

Perhaps you can relate this to the transition from x86 to x64. People such as myself have already made the transfer but I waited until there were the appropriate drivers to make everything run. At the same time I can still run all my favorite 32 bit software :)

I can read and understand metric almost efficiently as imperial. Yet I still like to drive 60mph and buy milk by the gallon

Just a small sentence, converted so people in the US can understand it:

Intel has taken its Core i7 0.00000125984251969-inch (32-nm) manufacturing technology out of the development stage.

:D

Frankenchrist said,
Just a small sentence, converted so people in the US can understand it:

Intel has taken its Core i7 0.00000125984251969-inch (32-nm) manufacturing technology out of the development stage.

:D

Don't do that when I'm drinking coffee! :lol:

I know that many highly accredited universities do, like CalTech and the likes. They do all their work, and professors do their lectures, all in SI units.

TonyLock said,
When will America join ROW (Rest of World)?


Too bad the rest of the world doesn't entirely use metric either

Considering we're sitting on the top of the heap, you'd probably like that wouldn't you? Truth is, especially considering who is in office at this present time, undertaking a costly venture like this is just a big waste of effort, time and money. Democrates do not like to spend money on NASA.

I always thought NASA used metric to start with... it just seemed like them being the science community they would want to use metric!

what said,
$370 million is nothing in NASA-bucks terms...


actually it's a lot... when you think about what could go wrong if you converted wrong

What else so you expect from NASA. They spent millions of dollars to create a pen that works in space. While Russian did that with 1 dollar.

a1kashur said,
What else so you expect from NASA. They spent millions of dollars to create a pen that works in space. While Russian did that with 1 dollar.


but then made millions on those same pens when they were used in other fields.... such as low pressure and under water areas

a1kashur said,
What else so you expect from NASA. They spent millions of dollars to create a pen that works in space. While Russian did that with 1 dollar.

That's actually not true. It was some bloke in Nevada that (with no request from NASA) developed the "Space Pen".

And no one uses pencils in space, they're too dangerous. Little splints of pencil carbon can break off and get lodged in equipment. They used grease pencils and plastic "paper" before they started buying pressurized pens.

In 2009 a launch to put a shuttle into orbit costs approximately $759 million dollars and to spend half the budget of a launch to convert units of measure can not be justified because it will produce no gain for the agency or the shuttle occupants.

This is sad. "No gain for the agency...?" They didn't learn from that one time they lost a mars probe because of units?

http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9909/30/mars.metric.02/

Interesting that according to the article about the mars probe case, "NASA has been using the metric system predominantly since at least 1990." Make up your mind already and get up to speed with the times and the rest of the world.

mindscape said,
This is sad. "No gain for the agency...?" They didn't learn from that one time they lost a mars probe because of units?

http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9909/30/mars.metric.02/

Interesting that according to the article about the mars probe case, "NASA has been using the metric system predominantly since at least 1990." Make up your mind already and get up to speed with the times and the rest of the world.

No, they lost the probe because of incorrect conversions. In fact, that is a prime example of why they shouldn't change at all.

The reason for the incorrect conversions was because they were working in tangent with other countries, with the U.S. being the only one to have a different system. So, actually, it's more of a reason to switch. For an agency that is suppose to represent the top in American science they really should make that change.

Although I don't agree with having to change all previous or ongoing missions, they need to start phasing out the imperial system with future missions.

testman said,
No, they lost the probe because of incorrect conversions. In fact, that is a prime example of why they shouldn't change at all.

i thought this is a prime example why they should change? if they do it now, they only have to do it once, if they leave it as it is they will have to convert everytime it needs to be in Metric and risk more incorrect conversions every time

you would think NASA would have foreseen this and done it 'right' at the beginning. Why us Americans insist on doing things different just for the sake of being different is asinine.

HeartsOfWar said,
you would think NASA would have foreseen this and done it 'right' at the beginning. Why us Americans insist on doing things different just for the sake of being different is asinine.

Does it matter? Metric isn't "right", it's just another way of measuring something. There's no point in converting if doing it in imperial is working fine for them.

testman said,
Does it matter? Metric isn't "right", it's just another way of measuring something. There's no point in converting if doing it in imperial is working fine for them.


Metric is the SI unit for anything scientific...

/- Razorfold said,
Metric is the SI unit for anything scientific...


But NASA has been doing just fine with imperial. Eventually they might switch over but there is no big rush right now.

Am I the only one concerned that with all the money NASA has available they still use Excel? I mean it's not the exactly the most secure data handling software or with large volumes of data even the stable. Not to mention the concurrency issues if the you have multiple people using the same spreadsheet.

That's a matter of opinion, really. If they needed or wanted to use something better, they probably would. Then again, they could be using Excel because of budget allocations.

Memnochxx said,
I'm sure you know better than nasa, it's not like they're rocket scientists.

LOL+1 but on the other hand maybe microsoft just gave them a copy

Considering I've had Excel crash on a spreadsheet with 4 f-ing cells, I'm surprised they didn't go with something like MatLab.

Murkey said,
Considering I've had Excel crash on a spreadsheet with 4 f-ing cells, I'm surprised they didn't go with something like MatLab.

well ur pc is obviously rubbish then. cos ive never had a single crash with office.

That's correct. They're just postponing the inevitable.
But the current project managers maybe thinking, not on our budget. 8p

370 million on bureaucrats maybe. Because they would certainly need a boss of the head of the departs of the teachers to help teach the astronauts while having assistants and advisers to assistants and reprogram the computers measurement structure... seriously america really needs to as a whole just change to metric system not just nasa they should spend the 370 million on that.

Leeoniya said,
nice - one giant leap backwards for the US.

we're already backwards, this just means we continue to be backwards...unfortunately.

brentaal said,
Why's that so?

Three nations have not officially adopted the International System of Units as their primary or sole system of measurement: Liberia, Myanmar and the United States.

tiagosilva29 said,

Ugh, I'm an idiot. I didn't read the article and assumed it was about NASA finally accepting the metric system... (so I thought these two were complaining about the metric system being "a giant leap backwards")

I though they already knew the concept of data abstraction (since hardcoding sucks)... But the question of using whether one system or the other is irrelevant as long as they are not mixed up.

They don't have to convert the entire forumla, just the resulting numbers. Wasn't there rover that crashed into mars a few years ago because of a wrong calculation of imperial to metric or vice verse since some European country and the U.S. teamed up to get the rover there?

supernova_00 said,
They don't have to convert the entire forumla, just the resulting numbers. Wasn't there rover that crashed into mars a few years ago because of a wrong calculation of imperial to metric or vice verse since some European country and the U.S. teamed up to get the rover there?

Nah media rubbish 'sorry I mean speculation'

Yeah back in 1998, the Mars Climate Orbiter crashed on its descent to mars because of this exact reason. I think it was lockhead martin who used either imperial or metric - causing the problem.

Actually the contract lockhead signed stated that they must use metric units, and they failed to fulfill their contractual obligation and used imperial units instead. NOT using the metric system cause the failure, and not converting will continue to have consequences, in the increasingly international efforts in space exploration.

The thing is there are tolerances in the structure, and a couple of a mm over a distance of 30 m is not worth worrying about, the control systems and sealing arrangements are there to correct for error. Error is part of life, and not even Boeing/Lockhead or NASA built macroscopic objects to microscopic tolerances.

exactly - you'd still have to test everything, just in case.

Imagine the uproar if there was another disaster & it transpired they had merrily converted to SI without testing everything after the changes. And changes there would be, to everything!

If you convert a 149.16 ft solid rocket booster to 45.463968 meters, nothing gets physically changed. Why would re-testing need to be done?

Lt-DavidW said,
If you convert a 149.16 ft solid rocket booster to 45.463968 meters, nothing gets physically changed. Why would re-testing need to be done?

because it wont be exactly 45.463968 meters, having tolerances within a few fractions of an inch is bad enough, but having rounding errors as well would make it too difficult to go on...

You would think its worth the effort when they are beginning a new chapter in space travel with a new shuttle etc. Just do it.

Jedimark said,
Pay me $10m and I'll tell them how to use: =CONVERT(number,"ft","m")

LOLL I officially elect you for the "comment of the day" here on Neowin :P

But seriously, I don't see why it wouldn't work o_O

And I thought they already switched a couple of years ago, how retarded are they anyways!?

It is not simple like u said. A small mistake can cost human life and million dollars shuttle. That's why the cost to convert is too high.

superhuman said,
It is not simple like u said. A small mistake can cost human life and million dollars shuttle. That's why the cost to convert is too high.


No but when you are involved in a scientific field, you use standard units of measurements. Which, no matter what the case or where you are in the world, is meters and kgs.

It is not simple, 2.20462262185 lbs is 1 kg, how about the precision beyond 185?
When traveling to a moon on Jupiter, or the planet mars it can be the difference between success and total failure. Rounding error is not negligible when traveling across huge distances. So i agree with nasa, there is no reason to currently change the measurement system. But they should migrate SI for future projects independent of current projects (perhaps talking with other space agencies for SI equivalence may be feasible)

/- Razorfold said,
No but when you are involved in a scientific field, you use standard units of measurements. Which, no matter what the case or where you are in the world, is meters and kgs.

Wrong .. in Printed Circuit Design we still use 'thou' , or thousands of an inch.
I'd be willing to bet that just about everything down to the nuts and bolts in NASA are still in the old Imperial system .. to change everything would be a massive undertaking!

Pikey said,
Wrong .. in Printed Circuit Design we still use 'thou'

"Thou shalst not use international measurement units, lest thou burnest in hell for such heathenry."

That's the reason they don't want to use metric units like any sane person.

ekw said,
2.20462262185 lbs is 1 kg

Actually no, pounds are a unit of force, the metric equivalent would be newtons, not Kg. Kg is a unit of mass. To equate the two, you would have to take into account the local gravity, which is not always going to be constant, even on earth.
Hence why the author said
... pounds and feet as opposed to the more widely adopted meters and newtons

dr spock said,
Actually no, pounds are a unit of force, the metric equivalent would be newtons, not Kg. Kg is a unit of mass. To equate the two, you would have to take into account the local gravity, which is not always going to be constant, even on earth.
Hence why the author said


Karraang (or whatever is the sound in game shows for a wrong answer) - Pound-Force is a unit of force, just like Kilogram-Force or Newton. Pound is a unit of mass. Thank you for playing.