October 28, 2015 Gray Dudek

How a hyphen can bring down a rocket

Giants and Titans | Birmingham Creative Agency

 

We talk a lot about the accuracy of copy, spelling, grammar, etc when Beautifully Crafting our work but why such a serious focus?

Aside from being very important it’s what sets apart great comms from just great comms, sparks intrigue not just interest, makes systems run perfectly not just ok.

As an example, one of the most infamous typos in history was made by NASA and it’s not natural to think that NASA would be too obsessive over grammar. Well…

In 1962, NASA attempted to launch Mariner 1, with the intention of probing Venus. The craft exploded less than two minutes after takeoff as we know.

Multiple theories emerged surrounding the reasons behind the craft’s failure, but the most commonly cited explanation, directly from Mariner 1’s post-flight review board, is that a lone “dropped hyphen” in the computer code instructions incited the flight’s demise.

Richard Morrison, a NASA official, said:

“The hyphen in question gives a cue for the spacecraft to ignore the data the computer feeds it until radar contact is once again restored. When that hyphen is left out, false information is fed into the spacecraft control systems. In this case, the computer fed the rocket in hard left, nose down and the vehicle obeyed and crashed.”

The omission of the hyphen, which set NASA back $80m, was deemed by “2001: A Space Odyssey” author Arthur C. Clarke to be “the most expensive hyphen in history.”

So if a missing or erroneous hyphen can bring down a rocket, you can imagine now why we not only craft our creative so beautifully but also our copy, code, designs, data, and so on.

We don’t want the batteries dropping out of our mice due the incorrect use of the possessive apostrophe!

Giants and Titans | Birmingham Creative Agency | Mariner 1

The Mariner 1 launching prior to the disaster

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