×

Announcing: Slashdot Deals - Explore geek apps, games, gadgets and more. (what is this?)

Thank you!

We are sorry to see you leave - Beta is different and we value the time you took to try it out. Before you decide to go, please take a look at some value-adds for Beta and learn more about it. Thank you for reading Slashdot, and for making the site better!

NASA Sticking To Imperial Units For Shuttle Replacement

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the stones-per-furlong dept.

Space 901

JerryQ sends in a story at New Scientist about the criticism NASA is taking for deciding to use Imperial units in the development of the Constellation program, their project to replace the space shuttle. "The sticking point is that Ares is a shuttle-derived design — it uses solid rocket boosters whose dimensions and technology are based on those currently strapped to either side of the shuttle's giant liquid fuel tank. And the shuttle's 30-year-old specifications, design drawings and software are rooted in pounds and feet rather than newtons and meters. ... NASA recently calculated that converting the relevant drawings, software and documentation to the 'International System' of units (SI) would cost a total of $370 million — almost half the cost of a 2009 shuttle launch, which costs a total of $759 million. 'We found the cost of converting to SI would exceed what we can afford,' says [NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma]."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Oh the Humanity! (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452601)

How many cwts [wikipedia.org] of Mars Orbiters [slashdot.org] must be lost before we learn?!

Re:Oh the Humanity! (0, Troll)

Abreu (173023) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452623)

Meanwhile, the entire scientific world sighs at the gringos... again!

Re:Oh the Humanity! (5, Insightful)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452813)

Which is the difference between scientists and engineers.... Sometimes the right decision is to listen to the engineers and not the scientists.

The scientists have it easy. They work in theories and numbers. The engineers have to produce usable physical objects. They have to do so in an environment that had significantly established manufacturing infrastructure before the SI standard existed. The countries that have converted to SI are the countries that were late to the industrial revolution party. It is expensive and difficult to overcome a massive established base of equipment. And it's a self perpetuating problem, because you can't just replace individual tools and machines as they wear out. An individual replacement has to be compatible with the rest of your infrastructure.

Sigh all you like. Short of a massive cash investment (Many Trillions of Dollars), or all manufacturing leaving the US and UK for good, Imperial units will stay and be indifferent to the sighs of the "rest" of the world.

(Incidentally, this would have been a *great* thing to spend stimulus money on instead of government employee salaries and other stupid programs.)

Re:Oh the Humanity! (5, Interesting)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452963)

Wonderful +1 Welcome to the real world

Also, SI conversion with stimulus $$ is one of the better ideas I've heard. It creates jobs (and ones that require at least basic education instead of just the ability to pour and smooth asphalt.) Hell, we could have even have offered basic training for people that would be involved in the more trivial but labor intensive efforts.

Mass conversion to SI requires some manual labor (switching road signs, etc), a lot of public awareness stuff, and a lot of Associate-level tech folks (and probably higher-level for review). You know who building a duck pond employs? 4 guys with heavy equipment (or 50 with shovels) and some ducks.

Re:Oh the Humanity! (5, Funny)

domanova (729385) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452985)

Most of the UK is SI now. Road signs still use miles and you can get two metres of two-by-four but it's liable to be 5cm by 10cm, whatever it's called. And asking for a kilo of tomatoes got me 'That's two pounds, sir, and f*ck the French'

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453015)

Speak for yourself!

The UK went metric years ago!

Re:Oh the Humanity! (2, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453101)

Is that why Top Gear reviews all the cars in terms of miles per hour and horsepowers?

Re:Oh the Humanity! (-1, Troll)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453025)

Sure, mod me down as overrated. But if you ask me, engineers are the real geeks. Not the scientists. (discuss) :)

And don't be such a wuss! Pick a meta-moderation eligible mod next time you want to mod-down a perfectly reasonable comment!

Re:Oh the Humanity! (3, Funny)

daem0n1x (748565) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453077)

The countries that have converted to SI are the countries that were late to the industrial revolution party.

What do you mean? EVERY country in the world uses the SI, except for the USA, Liberia and Burma.

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1)

lxs (131946) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453115)

I thought that was the Sultanate of Brunei, not Burma.

mod parent +1 realistic (1)

conspirator57 (1123519) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453193)

does it suck that the US generally uses different things (units, digital telecom carriers, etc.) than the rest of the world? yes.

does it suck that much?
no.

both SI and Imperial units are pegged to arbitrary things. In the case of Imperial units it was some king's foot. In the case of SI it is the distance light travels in some amount of time. whatever.

any system of measurement we develop is going to be arbitrary, and will probably break down at both extremes as we discover more about the nature of the universe.

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452723)

All because the size of Roman roads...

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1)

Divebus (860563) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452891)

Hey NASA - open a project on SourceForge and it'll be done in two weeks. The bad news is everyone will build their own.

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1, Troll)

clam666 (1178429) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452905)

I think the $370 million must be in Imperial Units, because since this is all going to be done with money borrowed from China, maybe we should find out what measurement system they're using.

That way when we inevitably have to hock it to them when we default they won't have to change the plans.

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453155)

since this is all going to be done with money borrowed from China, maybe we should find out what measurement system they're using.

They use SI, like the rest of the whole world.

Re:Oh the Humanity! (1)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452909)

How many cwts [wikipedia.org] of Mars Orbiters [slashdot.org] must be lost before we learn?!

The lesson I learn from MCO is that it is a bad idea to blindly reuse code and then forgo adequate testing.

And what is the cost of a failed mission? (1)

goffster (1104287) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452631)

Because of a unit conversion error.

Re:And what is the cost of a failed mission? (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452799)

Well if is in all one kind of unit, and it doesn't matter what kind, then there shouldn't be any conversion. The problem occurred when two different groups working on the mars orbiter project used two different systems.

really? (1)

buckadude (926560) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452639)

I'm sure it would cost alot, but really. WTF 370 million? wow. I can only hope that we get away from the Imperial action sometime.

Re:really? (5, Informative)

Useful Wheat (1488675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452771)

I work for an engineering company, and unit conversions are not a trivial operation. All of our drawings are created in autocad, and after several years it becomes difficult if not impossible to find the original file. As such, converting achieved documents requires recreating the document entirely from scratch. We also use a fairly vigorous quality control system that requires 3 engineers to check every document change, verify the calculation, and repeat the calculation using a different method to ensure that no mistakes were made.

We recently acquired an older project where we needed to simply change the title block on each page, and this process took roughly 5000 hours. For something on the scale of the space shuttle, 370 million isn't unheard of.

Re:really? (1)

antikristian (856519) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452969)

Next time you should replace 4999 of those hours with a simple BASH script.

People seem to be unaware of a computers ability to do repetitive tasks, and instead get people to do it manually.

Re:really? (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453007)

I work for an engineering company. A BIG one. Sometime back in the 80s, we went all metric. Sure if you look up an old drawing that was scanned in from the 40s, it's in English. But everything new is in Metric. Is there any reason there should be ANY old parts used in the new shuttles? Start from scratch, use metric.

Re:really? (1)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453027)

Ouch. Here was me hoping that all relevant files would just be run through an automatic conversion app.

Re:really? (3, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453163)

after several years it becomes difficult if not impossible to find the original file...We also use a fairly vigorous quality control system

How do you keep quality on your products, but not even keep your original documentation files? What happens if there is a change?

our drawings are created in autocad... unit conversions are not a trivial operation

The engineering team where I work uses Solidworks, and there are macros to do the conversions. Of course, those macros only work on the original files, not the printed documents... :-) So that brings us back to having lost the files...

Re:really? (1)

Daemonax (1204296) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453191)

What about the possibility of some community based approach to this?
The tricky part would be making sure there were no mistakes, but it may help in reducing the costs and time.

If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (4, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452659)

You know, a lot of Europeans probably think that U.S. reluctance to embrace the metric system is just another example of our arrogance. But a lot of Americans (like me) are genuinely interested in adopting this system. We even passed a law [wikipedia.org] in 1975 trying to mandate it.

The real problem is that it is surprisingly hard to embrace a new system of measurement when you've spent your entire life thinking in different terms. Try as I might, I still can't picture a kilometer without converting it to a mile first, and still can't picture a centimeter without converting it to inches. The meter is a lot easier because it's pretty analogous to the yard. I think maybe your brain gets locked into a certain measurement pattern pretty early in life and it's very difficult to get out of it, even though many of us would happily embrace it. I'm still trying to think more in metric, but it requires a surprising amount mental effort to do so.

It's not that Americans are really all that arrogant or stubborn about the imperial system. We've actually been trying to embrace the metric system [wikipedia.org] for some time.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452707)

No, the real reason s that Reagan killed all the funding to go metric. We were well on our way to finishing the conversion. by the end of the eighties we would have been metric.

No no one want s to 'increase' taxes to pay for anything. Seriously, a billion dollars and 8 years we would be done with this crap.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1, Informative)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452847)

Hahahahah, you really think so? It would never stick in the US, other than for soda, no one uses metric. Even if the kids started learning metric-only they would still have to know imperial units because thats what everyone else uses (as in, people who are out of school). Plus, the USA is large, scientists can usually convert, so whats the big deal if we use a different measurement system? We aren't a tiny country.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453177)

Well, one problem is that most of the world has to have two sets of tools for everything. Two sets of wrenches, two drill bits, two sockets, two sets of numbers on my speedometer.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (4, Informative)

mrvan (973822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452733)

I don't buy it

I lived in guilders all my life, and the first couple years in Eurotime I could only "imagine" a price by converting back to guilders and thinking whether the price sounded right. Now, I can only "imagine" a guilders price by converting it to euros

I've lived in the UK and US for 1.5 and .5 years, respectively, and I started thinking natively in most units pretty quickly, esp. inches and miles, and of course pints in the UK. Some units are more difficult, either because they have an offset as well as a scale difference (fahrenheit) or because they just don't make any sense (a 22 fluid ounces drink?? gimme a pint, damnit!)

I think the UK is busy converting mostly to metric system, so maybe some UKians can chime in with their experience?

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (2, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452857)

We have some people called the Metric Martyrs who think metric units are some unnecessary EU interference in our affairs.

It gets confusing at times when for example the distance you drive in a car is measured in miles, fuel for it is sold in litres, and fuel efficiency is either miles per gallon or litres per 100km. We really need a miles per litre measure, but I guess that isn't going to happen.

The same law that prevents the Metric Martyrs from selling their vegetables in pounds and ounces also prevents pubs from selling beer in litres. They are required to sell it in pints. This causes a problem for German and Australian themed bars who want to sell in the traditional metric measures found in those countries.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28452981)

The planet has been metric for a looong time.
Suck it up!

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453175)

fuel efficiency is either miles per gallon or litres per 100km

That's definitely weird. Here in Brazil we would use kilometers per litre.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (4, Informative)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453013)

I think the UK is busy converting mostly to metric system, so maybe some UKians can chime in with their experience?

Unfortunately, not really. All street signs still measure distance in miles, and eighths of miles, and the like, and half the population think that the metric system is (like the euro) just another damn frenchie scheme to undermine our sovereignty. We have a long history (this [wikipedia.org] , for instance) of coming up with crazy conspiricies to demonstrate why the imperial system is our God-given right, and why the French would like nothing better than to force their evil organised system of measurement upon us.

Meanwhile, for at least a couple of decades now, kids grow up being taught nothing but metric, and wonder why the grown ups still insist on using imperial, and what on earth a fluid ounce actually is. Cos everyone seems to use it, but I don't think anyone under 25 has actually been taught it.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453065)

I'm from the UK, and I've been metric my whole life. There're only 3 exceptions, off the top of my head:

1) Pints - beer comes in pints.
2) Miles - distances
3) Stones - for weighing people. This one tends to really confuse people who think they use Imperial units.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (5, Informative)

kazade84 (1078337) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453201)

I'm from the UK, and my mental image of measurements is fucked.

I know how much a pint is. I know how much 1kg is, but I don't know how much is 1 pound in weight. I know how tall I am in feet and inches, but not in meters.

All because we use metric for some reasons, and we are still stuck in imperial for others. My milk comes in bottles that are labelled 568ml although *everyone* refers to it as a pint, obviously our alcoholic drinks come in pints and half pints. Our speed limits are measured in miles per hour, yet we used to run the 100 meters at school. My height has always been given to me in feet and inches (while growing up by my parents) and if you speak to pretty much anyone they will also give their height in feet and inches, yet if I go to the doctor, they want me to know how high in meters. If you go under a low bridge, the height is given in feet.

When I go swimming the pool is in meters, when referring to medium distances anyone aged over 40 refers to yards, everyone below that refers to meters, at larger distances it's rare for anyone to use kilometers. Anyone over 40ish only understands Fahrenheit, everyone below uses degrees centigrade.

Generally speaking things are moving to metric (thankfully) but it will take many many years for imperial to die here currently we are in one big measurement mess and we will be for some time, especially as every traffic sign is in imperial.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (3, Interesting)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452747)

No it's not. I've was born and raised in France, moved in the US at 23, 4 years ago. The only unit I'm still uncomfortable with is F (also one of the stupidest) I have no problem thinking in inches, miles, gallons, ounces without converting.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (2, Informative)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452923)

Fahrenheit is one of the few units I prefer over the metric counterpart. At least when talking about weather or indoor climate.

When expressed as an integer (temperature frequently is when talking about weather), Fahrenheit is a more precise unit.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453137)

But if you can't tell the difference between 95 and 96 without a thermometer, does it matter?

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (0, Redundant)

swilver (617741) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452805)

You must be forced to use it. Here in Europe we adopted the Euro in a lot of countries, in a very short period the old currency was phased out and the Euro introduced. At first I was converting values as well, but after 2 or 3 years I've switched thinking to Euro's and only ever do a currency conversion when thinking about very old purchases (house, car, previous salary, etc..)

I don't know if it would be similar, but in my opinion it should not be much harder as for example learning to work with say hexadecimal values, or knowing how to express temperature in celsius and fahrenheit.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (5, Insightful)

Snowblindeye (1085701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452849)

The real problem is that it is surprisingly hard to embrace a new system of measurement when you've spent your entire life thinking in different terms.

Yes. Thats why the Canadians haven't been able to do it either. Or the Irish. Not Australia and New Zealand either. Or India.

Oh wait, they *have* all done it. So how come they can, but for the US it's just too hard?

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (3, Insightful)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453031)

Oh wait, they *have* all done it. So how come they can, but for the US it's just too hard?

No, I think it's because too few people care, so politicians don't care...and it never gets done. Simple as that.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (2, Insightful)

Malc (1751) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453105)

Some things are deeply ingrained. In Canada, the building industry is still imperial, and people generally talk about their weight in pounds (not stones and pounds like the UK). Australia seems to have converted more thoroughly, although I could talk to older people in imperial.

Inches and feet are units of a nice sized. Most things can be expressed as a whole unit, and when working precisely, they're easy to sub-divide (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, etc). Try quartering a cm - you end up with fractions of mm. Cm and m seem to be constantly odd numbers or funny fractions.

Americans seem particularly resistant to change. It will take a government with a lot of will to make such a change. A good starting place would be if the government mandated everything it does is metric. This will trickle down as any outside companies working for the government will have to comply, and then it's just a matter of time.

It would be nice if the US started with paper sizes. I was trying to do my Canadian tax return whilst in Australia earlier this year on a long visit, but absolutely nowhere in Melbourne could give me letter sized paper to print on or photocopy to. In the end I decided to come in to the 21st century and filed electronically for the first time. What a pain the arse though.

Ultimately, if you spend time in a country with different conventions, you stop converting and start thinking in the different units, unless you never encounter circumstances. It's a problem if you have to deal with somewhere else that uses a different system. After living on a British base in Cyprus, and for a while in the US, I would think of high temperatures (for the weather) in F, but due to winters in Toronto and Ottawa, of low temps in C. A summer in Shanghai, followed by a summer in Melbourne (47 degrees this Feb - wow!) has finally fixed that.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453183)

We can't get rid of the damn useless penny that costs almost twice as much to make as it's worth. What makes you think we can get rid of Imperial measurements?

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (2, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452851)

Most Americans cant picture a mile. picturing a kilometer is easy, it's very close to 7 city blocks.

Or for you suburbians the distance from abercrombie to starbucks.

It's easy if you simply use it. Problem is ask any of your co-workers how big an inch is and most will be very wrong.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453017)

You have a point with the inch. Oddly enough, everyone in the US seems to confuse it with the centimeter.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453075)

I live in the country you insensitive clod.

Every 'block' is exactly 1 mile. We have a 0'th N/S E/W street. Every road is miles*100 from the 0'th and each address is miles*1000. (If you lived on the road 3 miles east of 0th and 4.5 miles north of 0th your address was 4500N 300E BFE Indiana).

And each square mile is exactly 640 acres. If you had a big family farm you owned 640 acres so you would own from 400E to 500E and from 100N to 200N.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453161)

Most Americans cant picture a mile. picturing a kilometer is easy, it's very close to 7 city blocks.

For you, perhaps. In my city, there are 8 blocks to the mile going north/south and 16 going east/west.

Which means there are approximately either 5 or 10 blocks to the kilometre – but not exactly. Furthermore, since the large streets are generally spaced 1 mile apart, it still wouldn't make sense to picture distances in terms of kilometres.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452915)

You'd probably find learning a lot easier if you actually used metric in real life. Visualising a kilometre is pretty difficult when all the roadsigns are in miles. I live in the UK and we were taught metric exclusively in school. We used kilometres, but the roadsigns are in miles, and I now think in miles and metres - give me a value in feet or kilometres and I'll convert it (approximately) in my head.

Another example is volume - I can deal with pints when buying beer, but when I'm buying milk I have to approximate in litres because I'm not used to dealing with pints in quantities other than one (at a time).

If the US is going to convert, it should be done in one go. The halfway-house that the UK has is absolutely the wrong way to go about it - to this day we still have people who see metric as unusual and foreign.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28452957)

It just takes a little 'bilingualism' to get around the problem. I think of metric as the 'official' system, and Imperial as a 'dialect', to be used informally.

I use metric for speed, distance, and certain measurements, but I use 'feet' or 'inches' when describing a persons' height, or the dimensions of a monitor or a television. I use 'pounds' to describe a persons' weight, but I use kilograms and metric tonnes to describe heavy objects.

Mind you, I live in Canada, where metric is used in government, in the news, on road signs, etc.

Quite frankly, the only reason to use Imperial is for talking to Americans. Just try saying the letter "Zed" to an American. :)

It's the name... (1)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452971)

Far more damaging than being used to the Imperial system is the name of the metric system. SI? That sounds foreign! Who puts the adjective after the noun... Communists (Comrade Doctor... Doctor is being used as an adjective to modify Comrade)!

Seriously though, I had the same problem that you have. I was driving a car once that only had km on the speedometer. I had to convert miles to km to know if I was going at reasonable, nevermind legal, speeds.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

segedunum (883035) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452987)

It's not a question of what you are used to, it's a question of picking the right units for a complex project. Ten millimetres to the centimetre, one hundred centimetres to the metre and one thousand metres to the kilometre. It's easy to understand and far less easy to screw up when you're doing arithmetic on them. Not using newtons to measure force is absolute sacrilege in this day and age. Using newtons to measure force, one newton per metre of work is equal to one joule in energy terms. Easily convertible units that are far less prone to stupid errors when you work with them.

Culturally people will always pick the units they feel are best for what they're doing which is why the EU is having so much trouble mandating units of measure, but not to use easily convertible SI units for a project like this with a lot of interconnecting paths is just incredibly backward.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453107)

It's easy to understand and far less easy to screw up when you're doing arithmetic on them.

Might be true if you use a slipstick or pen and paper to do your arithmetic. If, like most everyone, you use a calculator or computer, the ease of use argument vanishes. I can program in 12 inches per foot just as easily as 10 deciliters per liter.

I'm a metric UK engineer that went to the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28453019)

It was a pain to start with, but I adapted within a few weeks. Coming back to Europe I adapted back within days.

Re:If you give up the inch, they'll take the mile (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453189)

The real problem is that it is surprisingly hard to embrace a new system of measurement when you've spent your entire life thinking in different terms.

I live in Canada. I'm 42, so I was in elementary school as the conversion to metric was underway. 40 years later we have an unusually hybrid system, with most people bi-metric/imperial.

Day-to-day, liquid measures are generally referred to in liters (i.e. gasoline, jugs of milk). I have no idea how "miles per gallon" convert. Ditto distances - & highway speeds. My wife drives "15km to work" and I once got a ticket for doing "140." My car's dashboard tells me I burn around 9 liters of gas to drive 100km.

However, many things are still imperial. If you ask me how tall I am I'll say 6'2. If you ask what I weigh I'll say 200 pounds. If I'm plumbing a drainage line at my house I might go to Home Depot and pick up some 2-inch ABS pipe, if I'm laying down a floor I might buy some 4x8 plywood sheets. (It's funny - I bought an old house three years ago and in the process of fixing it up all my elementary school fractions came back - "What's half of 11 and five-eigth's inches?"

Let's all help the guys over at NASA (3, Funny)

oneirophrenos (1500619) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452669)

1 foot = 0.3048 meters

There you go, NASA. That one's for free.

Re:Let's all help the guys over at NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28452785)

If the astronauts have boots on, the foot is longer, no?

It's NOT THAT SIMPLE.

Re:Let's all help the guys over at NASA (1)

Aldrikh (1493099) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452827)

Then again, with that kind of precision, I doubt it would safely reach orbit

it's like (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28452671)

Proving once again the USA is right and everyone alse is wrong!

I want that! (2, Informative)

Akir (878284) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452677)

It must be some astronomic and powerful calculator they need for those conversions. I'm assuming that it's so expensive because it can calculate the highest prime number and last digit of pi in under a second.

But that still doesn't account for the costs they're making up.

Re:I want that! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28453023)

Since you clearly know all the details about NASA's technical documentation, I'm curious to know what format the drawings are in. You must be implying a knowledge that they're all in a convenient digital vector form, because any rasters or hard-copies would be quite a chore to change. What is the total volume of documentation we're talking about here? How many copies are kept at how many locations, and in what forms? Also, perhaps you can elaborate on the tolerances of the measurements and how that would relate to rounding errors when multiplying a measurement by a factor like 0.3048006096012 (meters per foot). It's a relief to hear, as you are clearly implying, that NASA doesn't use any off-the-shelf fasteners. If they did, and if all of their specs were to be in metric, they'd probaby have to convert to metric parts, which could require some subtle redesign even if the above-mentioned rounding issues don't. The fact is, I don't know which of the above are factors -- and I'm willing to bet you don't either, which makes me wonder at the hubris in your post.

I say the get emergency funding for this (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452679)

becasue a conversion error would cost them a hell of a lot more.

Good on them (2, Funny)

commandlinegamer (1046764) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452695)

I'd buy them a pint.

Just get it over with already (3, Funny)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452705)

The sticking point is that Ares is a shuttle-derived design â" it uses solid rocket boosters whose dimensions and technology are based on those currently strapped to either side of the shuttle's giant liquid fuel tank. And the shuttle's 30-year-old specifications, design drawings and software are rooted in pounds and feet rather than newtons and meters.

And in 20 years, that'll be the same excuse given for building Ares's replacement with imperial units.

Re:Just get it over with already (1)

cabjf (710106) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452863)

Maybe by then NASA will be given enough resources to cover that cost. Right now though, their budget is already tight and perpetually threatened.

Horses Asses (5, Interesting)

the phantom (107624) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452729)

This email goes around archaeological circles every once in a while (I'm sure it goes around other circles, too), and I just got a new copy of it from my uncle yesterday, so it seems as good a time as any to share:

People are always asking why we do things the way we do. Well, here is the reason: railroad tracks.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did 'they' use that gauge? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So, who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England) for the legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they all had the same wheel spacing. Therefore, the United States' standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Bureaucracies live forever.

So, the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with this?' you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses (two horses' asses). Now, the twist to the story.

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass. And you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control lots of things...

AND CURRENT HORSES' ASSES NOW ARE ARE CONTROLLING NEARLY EVERYTHING ELSE.

Re:Horses Asses (4, Funny)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452871)

Why is my mailbox full of unfunny spam?

Because a bunch of horses' asses keep hitting the Forward button.

Re:Horses Asses (5, Informative)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453087)

http://www.snopes.com/history/american/gauge.asp [snopes.com]

Claim: The United States standard railroad gauge derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Status: False

Re:Horses Asses (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453131)

BS

There were conscious decisions made on rail gauges, for economic and technical reasons that were debated at the time

the time is come now for metric units and the problem I have with this story is that I simply don't believe that the conversion to metric is as costly as it is made out to be or that the financial benefits of converting to metric (eg. savings from not launching a mixed metric/imperial fuck-up into space) have been properly factored.

Besides, any imperial space ship will be shot down by the rebels, it's a well-known fact

Re:Horses Asses (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453145)

Why did 'they' use that gauge?

Yeah, I know you didn't write that story, but...

What is that, an ironic "they"? Some mythical "they"? FFS people, quotes are not supposed to be used for emphasis! Seriously, stop it, it's annoying! :)

BTW, for an hilarious take on this, go watch Frisky Dingo. And welcome to your "Doom"!

Re:Horses Asses (1)

bretticus (898739) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453185)

[citation needed]

There is the theory of the moebius... (1)

conner_bw (120497) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452741)

NASA needs measurements to buy parts?.

So they give these imperial measurements to the manufacturers who...

Do the conversion for them because the manufacturer doesn't use the imperial system?

$370 million? (2, Interesting)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452749)

What the hell are they spending this money on? If they paid their engineers $150,000/year, they could hire almost 2500 engineers for a year-long project. It's not like they're building anything new or buying raw materials; they just need someone to re-draw plans with new measurements in a different system. The fitting/testing for the Ares should already be budgeted for so it shouldn't fit in with this cost. No wonder we're in debt...

Re:$370 million? (1)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452861)

surprise, surprise, another government agency is milking the system.

Re:$370 million? (3, Insightful)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452911)

You make it sound so simple...when, in fact, this is quite literally rocket science here.

One of the common stories here is people needing to rewrite an entire project because of a new language fad. The old project worked. Rewriting it first means you have to replicate the old project and then deal with new bugs while the old project had all the bugs mostly ironed out.

Why do we insist NASA to reinvent the wheel when we're so against it in our own profession?

Re:$370 million? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28452945)

say 5:1 at each level for management span of control. Figure 100 enginers, 20 supervisors, 4 middle managers, 1 project lead, 10 admin people, and another team about 20% that big for QA. Each of these people costs twice as much as their salary, plus the cost of a building for a year to house 200 people. at 100 sq/ft per person and $20/sq ft/mo if they're in a decent area for office space, there's an extra chunk of money. it has to be contracted out, so the contractor has to make a profit on it, and carry a shitton of liability insurance. There's also the NASA guys to QA this. When changing the units, every rounding error has to be validated. Poof, you just blew through $300M or so in a few years. Congrats.

Re:$370 million? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28453171)

It's not like they're building anything new or buying raw materials; they just need someone to re-draw plans with new measurements in a different system.

Frankly, and without trying to be insulting, you're so ignorant of what the issue is that it's laughable that you even have an opinion on it.

This isn't a matter of trivia, where we are worried if plans are marked in inches or mm. Change to metric, now every bolt must be metric pitch thread, every nut must be changed to accomodate. Every calculation of mass and structural integrity has to be reexamined and recalculated for new components. You don't just magically say "ok, our 3/8" bolts are now to be called 9.525mm bolts" and call it a day.

obligatory simpsons quote (4, Funny)

gregg (42218) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452763)

Abe Simpson: The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it.

Now I know what NASA stands for... (1)

Offtopic (103557) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452801)

Need Another Space Agency.

Seriously, just burn it down and start from scratch. The shuttle is such an economic disaster. It isn't even close to being competitive. Why would we possibly want to build a new one?

And as far as anyone trying to do physics in Imperial units... it's just braindead.

It's mind-boggling that they say it could cost $370,000,000 to convert the drawings. Aren't they stored in electronic form? The cost should be almost zero if they are. If not -- well I don't even know what to say -- it's just unbelievable.

Re:Now I know what NASA stands for... (3, Insightful)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453099)

Yes...stored in electronic form. That's right. Wait, remind me again, what file format did Autocad use in the 1960s? 1970s? 1980s? Was it DWG back then?

Plus we're not building another shuttle. We're going back to the days of Apollo, with a capsule^Wspacecraft on top of a rocket. Apparently, though, they found that they can utilize the SRB design for part of the new project. (The big white rockets that get reused after launches.) The SRBs date from the start of the Shuttle era which...erm, yeah. 1970s.

So here we have a rocket booster already designed that works like a champion. The blueprints are all done. They work. They're reusable. They've been fieldtested over 100 times.

And you want to redesign them essentially from scratch? As many coders here want to say to their bosses when upper eschelon wants to recode an application in the new flavor of the month language: if it is not broken, do not fix it.

metric is too hard (-1, Troll)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452835)

Obviously, the metric system is too difficult for Americans. I can't count the times I've seen people struggle with the concepts of multiplying and dividing by *gasp* TEN.

Re:metric is too hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28453207)

I and my offspring have twelve fingers, you insensitive clod !

Conversion Adversion (2, Interesting)

BStorm (107974) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452845)

"the shuttle's 30-year-old specifications, design drawings and software are rooted in pounds and feet rather than newtons and meters. ... NASA recently calculated that converting the relevant drawings, software and documentation to the "International System" of units (SI) would cost a total of $370 million" Nearly half a billion dollars to convert into SI units (I've added the required cost overruns)?! Wouldn't all the relevant drawings, software and documentation have to be converted into machine readable formats that are more appropiate for use with today's sofware and document management systems? Is the estimated cost for the SI conversion, or more likely as I suspect the cost of bringing the design information into more appropiate formats.

Pay me now (1)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452867)

Pay Me Later.

The trick is that later will be twice the price.

America Fuck yeah (0, Flamebait)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452869)

Of course they have to use the imperial system, in order to differentiate themselves from the rest of the world. Because they certainly aren't managing it by "innovation" nowadays.

Maybe... (2, Insightful)

PvtVoid (1252388) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452885)

Maybe they should be re-thinking their plan to use 30-year-old technology on their flagship 21st Century project. Really: what does it say about the technical competence of NASA that they admit to being unable to use SI units, even though they would like to?

Time to Clean House (0)

ks*nut (985334) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452887)

NASA is trying desperately to hang on to its past glory and the accomplishments of the past 50 years. But it is time to move on and embrace the challenges of the future. It is time to dump the pipe dream of returning to the Moon and using it as a base from which to travel to Mars. At the same time we need to assess what it is exactly that we want to accomplish with continued funding and support of ISS. And the whole country, not just NASA, should be embracing the SI system as a step to take into the future. But NASA should be leading the way, not looking for excuses to continue using the Imperial System. When will they ever learn?

Sir Winston Churchill (2, Informative)

IdleTime (561841) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452899)

The old British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill once said: "You can depend on the Americans to do the right thing once all other options have been exhausted!"
No offense, Sir Winston, but after over a decade of living and working in the US, I have to change it to: "You can NOT depend on the Americans to do the right thing once all other options have been exhausted!"
Get on with the program and get rid of the antiquated foot, inches lbs and what not and move into the 21st century!

Do we really need metric? (0)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#28452913)

Metric's good for making some calculations by hand, but, any more, the alignment of metric units, like all relations around water to its mass and volume, all don't really hold that accurately any more, and you still need goofy constants. It's like, everything is "kinda based around 10", rather than, is based on ten.

As a consumer, I'm not really sure what the advantage to me is having to switch from getting gasoline or water in gallons and quarts, rather than in liters. Regardless of the unit of measure, the more important number, the $, is going to be the same.

I think the adoption of metric is ultimately just another statist thing. If you ask me, every country should have its own unit of measurement. Modern software can fix it all up.

I vote to start a country of Todds, where everything is measured in Todds.

the unit of mass of liquid measure, is a Todd, and that is based on how many sodas I drink in a day. You could say two 64 ouncers, or, 128 ounces.

the unit of height is a Todd, and that's about 6'1", and that's how tall I am. If I was a porn star, I would have a unit of length roughly about 1 foot, but, I'm not, so oh well.

Re:Do we really need metric? (3, Insightful)

PvtVoid (1252388) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453059)

As a consumer, I'm not really sure what the advantage to me is having to switch from getting gasoline or water in gallons and quarts, rather than in liters. Regardless of the unit of measure, the more important number, the $, is going to be the same.

I prefer imperial units for lots of everyday tasks like cooking. Imperial units are much closer to a binary-based system, which is very convenient for human beings. Two cups in a pint. Two pints in a quart. An ounce of water weighs about an ounce. A pint of water weighs about a pound. Human beings are very good at halving or doubling things by eyeball, but we're lousy at dividing into tenths.

But if you're building a fucking spaceship, use SI units for Christ's sake.

Re:Do we really need metric? (1)

Eevee (535658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453135)

I'm sorry, but we already have the Smoot [wikipedia.org] for measurement of length. You'll just have to learn to live with being 1.09 Smoots tall.

Re:Do we really need metric? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453165)

Metric's good for making some calculations by hand, but, any more, the alignment of metric units, like all relations around water to its mass and volume, all don't really hold that accurately any more, and you still need goofy constants

To simplify, lets see lenght. Is better to have one constant (meter) from which all the others derive in a very simple relationship (powers of 10), than have a lot of constant (inch, feet, mile, etc) where you need even more constants to see how each one compares with the other

Space programs rarely have the choice (3, Informative)

Audiophyle (593650) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453045)

Most systems engineers in the space industry know that it's difficult to completely use metric for space missions. There are usually many components and subsystems that are designed by different vendors that have their own paradigms set up. These paradigms are usually kept do a legacy of proven use, and engineers will agree with me that if a product works well on-orbit, why on earth would you want to change a product simply due to unit conversions. You simply take note of the units and move on. I never thought I'd have to deal with microinches, to be honest, but it's no big deal since everyone knows 1 uin = 0.0254 microns.

I can definitely see their point, because (5, Insightful)

jcochran (309950) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453057)

the issue isn't just one of redoing the drawings along with the various checks and cross checks to make certain the units were converted properly. I'm sure they could that, but the resulting set of new drawings would be extremely prone to encouraging mistakes. As a minor example. Let's assume that on one piece they currently have a dimension of 12 inches +/- 0.01 inches. So they convert this dimension to metric giving a new value of 30.48 cm +/- 0.025 cm. Excuse me?!?!? That's a rather odd and strange dimensional target to hand off to the machinest. And you'll be getting these rather strange dimensions for everything on the original design. Frankly using the metric measurements would make that rocket utterly hell to construct. So the "proper" solution would be to use the original design and then stretch/shrink various dimensions in order to make the dimensions "rounder" and easier to manufacture. But upon doing that, they have effectively come up with a new design that has to be recertified.

Imperial shuttles? (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453095)

Just double check those Imperial units to make sure they're not disguised Rebels,
or your shuttle could be used in a terrorist attack on the moon or whatnot.

imperial fighters (1)

e**(i pi)-1 (462311) | more than 5 years ago | (#28453141)

I seriously expected imperial fighter units [wikia.com] to be developed by NASA first, when reading the title.

Crowd source please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28453143)

Can't we just crowd source this and let all these bitching nerds do it? For free.

Canada Uses Metric and Imperial (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28453149)

Here in Canada most regulators require measurements to be done in metric. Many people here still use imperial for common things, such as personal measurements (height, weight, waist size etc), but for any public projects people tend to use SI. Its an awkward mix of the two systems, but for the most part people recognize that metric is easier and more accurate. Temperature is probably the hardest one to convert. I think if the US converted to metric it would eventually phase out all imperial measurements within a generation or two. I'm rather shocked the scientists and engineers at NASA have been using imperial this whole time.
I think NASA should be considered for restructuring, as their budgets are incredibly bloated for what they're trying to accomplish. I'm all for government funding going to successful space agencies and letting the under-performers die out.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?