“First actual case of a bug being found”
If a mistake is made in the coding of computer software it can end up costing companies millions, if not billions, of dollars. Here’s a list of some of the most famous and costly mistakes made in recent times.
1 – NASA’s Mariner 1 – $18,500,000
The Mariner 1 space probe was supposed to be heading to Venus on a discovery mission, but soon after launch the spacecraft diverted away from its intended path. It turns out that a formula, critical to the spacecraft’s velocity, was written down on a piece of paper and then poorly transcribed.
2 – Mars Climate Orbiter Crash – $125,000,000
The Mars Climate Orbiter had spent 10 months travelling from Earth to Mars and was just arriving at Mars’ orbit when it fired its engines. The engine burst should have pushed it into position to happily orbit round Mars, unfortunately they fired too hard/ for too long and the spacecraft fell into Mars’ atmosphere and caused it to crash land.
This occurred because the software which was designed for the Orbiter’s thrusters was using imperial units (pounds of force), rather than NASA’s specified unit of choice- metric (Newtons).
3 – The Y2K Bug – $500,000,000,000
Space was an issue in older systems (which would take up vast rooms, but now fit in our hand!) so legacy software would sometimes store the date of the year as 2 digits. So 1999 was saved as “99”, but this meant that when 2000 came about, the software would think that the “00” would actually be 1900.
In the end, billions of dollars were spent by businesses all over the world to get programmers in to fix their systems or, at least, safe guard them. In the end, there were no major computer failures, but they could have been down to the efforts made beforehand to make sure it didn’t affect anyone.
4 – World War III: Close Call – Cost= potentially, most of the human race
The Soviet Army had, what they thought, a high-tech early warning system against missile attacks. In 1983 this system sent alerts to the main command centre at 12.30am informing the Soviets that the Americans had launched 5 missiles which were coming for the USSR.
Thanks to Lt Col Stanislav Petrov (below) and his “funny feeling in my gut”, he intercepted the message and overrode the system so that the USSR didn’t retaliate. He thought that if the Americans were going to attack, they would use much more that 5 missiles and so World War III and the near extinction of man was averted.
It turns out that the missile warning system picked up the sunlight reflecting off the top of clouds and somehow interpreted them as missiles. The missile warning system was checked over by computer programmers and they found even more bugs. This didn’t bode well with higher Soviet army officials, Lt Col Stanislav Petrov was unceremoniously dismissed and the whole event was hushed up. The facts about this close call were only found out in 1999 and are still, technically, a military secret in Russia.