«Берлинский пациент» умер от рака

История первого в мире человека, победившего ВИЧ

Reading time 2 minutes

Тимоти Рэй Браун, известный как «Берлинский пациент», умер 29 сентября после продолжительной борьбы с лейкозом. Ему было 54. Об этом сообщил его партнер на странице в Фейсбуке.

Тимоти Браун учился в университете Берлина, когда врачи поставили мужчине диагноз ВИЧ. Отсюда и пошло прозвище «Берлинский пациент». Затем у Брауна обнаружили лейкоз — заболевание кроветворной системы. Геро Хюттер, лечащий врач Тимоти, предложил пересадить пациенту костный мозг донора с иммунитетом к ВИЧ-инфекции. Иммунитет возникает, когда у человека отсутствует поверхностный лимфоцитарный белок CCR5.

Геро Хюттер и Тимоти Браун
Геро Хюттер и Тимоти Браун

При попадании в организм вирус старается проникнуть в лимфоциты — иммунные кровяные клетки. Для этого белок вируса должен связаться с двумя белковыми рецепторами лимфоцитов, один из которых — CCR5. Некоторые люди обладают с рождения генной мутацией. Она останавливает синтез CCR5.

В 2007 врачи первый раз провели пациенту трансплантацию костного мозга. Она не была полностью успешной: ВИЧ не определялся в организме, но рак продолжал развиваться. Вскоре процедуру повторили, и на этот раз наступила ремиссия. Оба раза биологический материал брали у одного донора.

Браун со своей собакой по имени Джек
Браун со своей собакой по имени Джек

В 2008 на Международной конференции по борьбе со СПИДом о выздоровлении Тимоти узнали все. История Брауна вызвала скептицизм в научном сообществе. Некоторые исследователи хотели самостоятельно протестировать кровь на наличие инфекции, так как не доверяли результатам. Были и те, кто считал полное выздоровление невозможным: у пациента мог случиться рецидив. Несмотря на громкие заявления прессы о лекарстве от ВИЧ, трансплантация стволовых клеток не используется для борьбы с вирусом. Операции сложные и рискованные: доноры с иммунитетом встречаются очень редко, а сама процедура опасна из-за возможных осложнений и летального исхода.

Незадолго до смерти в интервью изданию Associated Press Браун рассказал, что лейкоз вернулся. Он лечился при помощи химиотерапии, но рак победил. До конца жизни у Тимоти сохранился иммунитет к инфекции.

Тимоти никогда не жалел, что решился на операцию
Тимоти никогда не жалел, что решился на операцию

На данный момент лекарства от вируса иммунодефицита не существует. Ученые много лет работают над вакциной, но результатов нет: вирус встраивается в геном клетки, поэтому его сложно изучить. ВИЧ-положительные люди принимают специальные антиретровирусные препараты, которые задерживают развитие СПИДа и сопутствующих заболеваний. Инфицированные при успешном лечении могут дожить до старости.

Заведующая центра по профилактике СПИДа Наталья Сизова отмечает, что после случая «Берлинского пациента» исследователи не исключают факт разработки мутации рецепторов CCR5. Это значит, что появится возможность искусственно создавать иммунитет к ВИЧ у заболевших.

The strongest

How did the humanity fight dangerous viruses in different eras?

Reading time 6 minutes

When the coronovirus epidemic walks around the world, it’s time to recall what diseases people have already defeated. In the article we will tell you who, how and when saved the humanity from epidemics.

Plague

According to historians, up to 300 million people died from the plague. The disease was rolling in wave during the Middle Ages and the New Age. The most ferocious pandemics are the Justinian plague in the 6th-8th centuries and the “Black Death” in the 14th century. More often people got sick with bubonic plague – lymph nodes became inflamed and formed characteristic “buboes”. Pulmonary plague happened less frequently. A person began to cough and spit blood. In the first form, the probability of recovery was 25%, in the second – 0%. All the doctors could do was to protect themselves when approaching a sick patient.

Костюм, который вошёл в культуру Средневековой Европы: кожаные доспехи и маска. В «клюв» доктора закладывали травы, которые обладали антисептическими свойствами. При дыхании они нагревались и испаряли вещества, снижавшие риск заражения
This costume was popular in medieval European culture: leather armor and a mask. Doctors laid herbs in the beak that had antiseptic properties. When breathing, they heated up and vaporized substances that reduced the risk of infection.

We learned how to deal with “black death” in the 20th century. Epidemiologist Vladimir Khavkin created an inactivated vaccine against bubonic plague from temperature-killed plague sticks. The live vaccine was created and tested by the bacteriologist Magdalene Pokrovskaya. In 1947, Soviet scientists from the Red Army Research Institute of Epidemiology and Hygiene developed the antibiotic called streptomycin and began to use it in Manchuria, where an epidemic broke out at that time. All patients who received the new medicine recovered. Today, with proper treatment, 90-95% of patients survive.

Smallpox

Chinese annals mentioned smallpox in 12th century BC. In the 6th century AD, the disease entered Europe. Epidemics happened regularly and claimed up to 40% of patients. The ones who recovered often remained blind and had disfigured scars.

A person who had contracted smallpox usually did not get infected again. A Millennium BC the Chinese instilled a mild form of the disease, so, that a person would not become infected with a serious one. However, the course of the disease was still individual and the person who was vaccinated could die. There were few people who wanted to try their luck, and the disease spread further.

Екатерина II первой в России сделала прививку от оспы. Страна последовала её примеру и в XX веке для поступления в учебное заведение уже требовалась справка о прививке
Catherine II was the first who got smallpox vaccine in Russia. The country followed her example, and in the 20th century a certificate of vaccination was required for admission to an educational institution.

The safest way to protect oneself from smallpox was invented by the British physician Edward Jenner in the 18th century. He suggested that  vaccination from cow smallpox, which was easily tolerated by humans, could protect them from dangerous natural one. The doctor conducted an experiment on May, 14 in 1796. The vaccinated boy remained healthy. Jenner later discovered that a vaccine made using the blood of a previously vaccinated person is just as effective as one made from biomaterial that has been infected directly from a cow. Now, vaccination did not require waiting for rare outbreaks of vaccinia. The last case of smallpox was registered in 1977, and in 1980 the World Health Association announced the victory over the disease.

Poliomyelitis

The developed countries faced epidemics of poliomyelitis in the 20th century. The patients were mostly children under 5 years old. The virus affected the nervous system and the gray matter of the spinal cord. The person was broken by paralysis.

Poliomyelitis is not treatable, but it can be prevented. Salk’s inactivated vaccine was launched in the United States in 1955. At the same time, Virologist Albert Seibin invented a cheaper and more effective live vaccine. Soviet scientists Mikhail Chumakov, Marina Voroshilova and Anatoly Smorodintsev tested it on their children, grandchildren and relatives. The vaccine helped to stop the polio epidemic, which has been affecting the Baltic states since 1949.

Основатель и первый директор Института полиомиелита и вирусных энцефалитов АМН СССР действительный член АМН, профессор Михаил Чумаков за работой
Professor Mikhail Chumakov

In 1988, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on the eradication of poliomyelitis in the world. After this initiative, the number of cases decreased by 99%. Today, the virus persists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

 

Double Christmas and New Year?

How Russia came to the different celebrations of the same holidays

Reading time 6 minutes

The humanity invented many calendars such as moon and moon-solar, Julian and Gregorian, also new Julian one. Let’s know what calendars used in Russia and how they affected contemporary holidays.

Ancient Slavic tribes had many customs connected with tne Moon
Ancient Slavic tribes had many customs connected with tne Moon

Our ancestors espoused paganism so they closely associated life with the cycle processes of nature. The ancient Slavic tribes counted time via moon calendar. The term between moon appearing and its disappearing constituted approximately 30 days and was called a month. The celebration of New Year started at around December 25 and lasted for a dozen days after the solstice. Then the duration of daylight started to expand, and the Slavs launched a new sowing circle.

The calendar changing in Russia happened in the X century because of a new faith arrival of. Knyaz Vladimir baptized his territories to the Byzantine rite. Christian date calculation came with the new religion. Since then Slavic tribes started distinguishing years from the Creation of the World and stated the 1st of March as the new year’s first day. Months’ names also were changed according to the Julian calendar that was invented in Rome at 46 B.C.

Ivan III removed the New Year from the 1st of March to the 1st of September. The tzar sought to unification of holidays in Russia, so in 1492 combined the New Year with the harvest festival and the tax collection time.

Gregory XIII is famous for the calendar introduced into the Catholic countries in XVI century. the author of the calendar is a priest and astronomer Christopher Clavius
Gregory XIII is famous for the calendar introduced into the Catholic countries in XVI century. the author of the calendar is a priest and astronomer Christopher Clavius

In the XVI century, people found out that the duration of year in the Julian calendar did not correspond to the astronomical one. The Earth revolves around the Sun 12 minutes faster than the Romans believed in ancient times. In 1582, the discrepancy constituted 10 days. That was the reason why Christmas shifted to spring, and Easter to summer. To improve calculations, Pope Gregory XIII suggested a new calendar which was named Gregorian later. It was accepted so in Catholic world October 15 came after October 4 to annihilate the gap between calendars.

This gap between calendars accumulates over every 128 years. Therefore, before 1701, it made up 10 days, while nowadays it amounts to 13. While the dissimilarity between the Gregorian and astronomical year amasses over 3333 years. New Julian calendar is the most precise. It lags from the astronomical year no sooner than over 40,000 years pass. Until 2800, the New Julian and the Gregorian calendars are alike.

Peter I was that who moved the New Year to the 1st of January, though he left the Julian calendar. Therefore, Russia stepped into the 1700th year A.D. from 7208th year from the Creation of the World. However, due to the gap of 10 days Russians in St. Petersburg celebrated The New Year when, for instance, in Amsterdam people lived in the 10th of January.

Tikhon is the first Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia after the restoration of the Patriarchate in Russia in 1917
Tikhon is the first Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia after the restoration of the Patriarchate in Russia in 1917

The second New Year occured in Russia after 1918 when the Bolsheviks finally switched to the Gregorian calendar. Although, the secular state accepted it, the Church still stuck to the old style. Patriarch Tikhon reject the calendar because according to it, the Orthodox Easter could fall before the Jewish holiday Pesach. It contradicted the decisions of the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D. Therefore, the Orthodox celebrate Christmas Eve not at the 24th of December as Catholics do but at the 6th of January. And they celebrate the Old New year at the 13th of January.

Thus, since the tenth decade of the last century, Orthodox people in Russia have been living simultaneously on two calendars with two new years and Christmas in January.

Borderless education

How Russian students take part in international mobility

Reading time 5 minutes

According to RBC data, in 2015 more than 50 thousand Russians studied abroad. This is about 1.5% of all international students. Statistics have shown that students prefer to travel to the United States and European countries although China is becoming more and more popular.

The cost of education in Europe universities according to the data of state agencies
The cost of education in Europe universities according to the data of state agencies

Any student can build an independent educational trajectory of education abroad or participate in international academic mobility programs with the help of home-university. RNU HSE is among those universities that offer such exchange programs. It has more than 74 arrangements with institutes in 27 countries.

HSE stusents on the international mobility program
HSE stusents on the international mobility program

HSE advises to divide the participation into the international academic mobility program into several stages:

  1. Make sure that you meet all the criteria that apply to exchange candidates.
  2. Calculate your budget: you will not have to pay for the education but both visa and transport, insurance and accommodation, food and unexpected expenses are covered by the student. In case of difficulties with calculations, you can use the site.
  3. Submit an online application form to participate in the competition: for autumn mobility it is held in February-April and for spring one in August-October.
  4. Check your email address to find out the selection results. They are announced one month after the end of the application process.
  5. If the application is approved, get ready to go: check the list of things and study the recommendations for traveling abroad on the website of the Russian foreign Ministry.

To make sure that the student is ready to study, the host country may ask to confirm the level of English fluency. The tip: programs that require international certificates have lower competition. Therefore, if you confirm your knowledge of the language with an international exam certificate in advance, it will significantly increase your chances of learning abroad. To do this, you should pass IELTS or TOEFL but not lower than the level B2 according to the CEFR classification.

The stages of fluency in foreign languages according to classifications of CEFR and British Council
The stages of fluency in foreign languages according to classifications of CEFR and British Council

According to the experience of students who have studied abroad, you should learn ahead as much as possible about the country you are going to and study the course program. Also, you should know in advance how you will be evaluated and whether you will be able to recalculate the received grades on the return. The clearer and more extensive your understanding of life in the host country, the less likely you are to suffer from culture shock or homesickness. To do this, you can monitor the media platforms of the host country, correspond with locals or analyze the experience of your predecessors. No one can guarantee that you will be 100% comfortable in your new place but careful preparation will help make the experience more enjoyable.

A stepping stone for young professionals

Registration for “I am a professional” olympiad has opened

Reading time 5 minutes

The registration for the third season of Russian-wide olympiad for students “I am a professional” has begun in early October. Application form for choosing the subject and uploading the certificate from the University is available for filling out until November 18.

The competitions will be held in seven areas of knowledge, therefore both students of technical programs and those who study in the Humanities and natural Sciences will be able to choose tasks to their liking. The program for the contestants will be compiled by specialists from leading universities and enterprises of Russia. The competition is open for bachelors, masters and specialist students. Participants do not have to pay for the Olympiad.

More than 98000 of students decided to patticipate in the olypmiad this year to the 10th of October
More than 98000 of students decided to patticipate in the olypmiad this year to the 10th of October

The olympiad has two stages. From November 22 to December 8 students need to complete the tasks of the qualifying stage which is held online. Those who show the best results go to the final face-to-face stage. It is held at several venues across the country from late January to early March. The finalists will be able to choose the most convenient city.

Winter schools are planned between the two stages. They consist of practice-oriented educational forums based on major universities of the country. Meanwhile, contestants who have already passed qualifying stage of the Olympiad also have to pass additional tests.

Winter school «Software and Radio Engineering» in Sochi
Winter school “Software and Radio Engineering” in Sochi

To prepare for the competition, participants can solve demo-versions of qualifying stage tasks and watch online courses available on the site. Besides giving additional information, online courses are handy because certificates of completion allow to participate in the final stage, bypassing the selection process.

The results of the Olympiad are to be summed up in March or April, after the organizing Committee have determined the winners. They will receive cash payments, invitations to internships, and privileges for entering universities as awards. The amount of payments will depend on the participant’s status.

Awarding of medalists, winners and prize-winners last year took place in Moscow. Approximately 3500 people received prizes
Awarding of medalists, winners and prize-winners took place in Moscow last year. Approximately 3500 people received prizes

All winners will be awarded with diplomas and included into the national database “I am a professional”. This is a student registry that is open for recruiters and human resources specialists from leading firms. The organizers will help to make a portfolio and give suggestions for improving work skills to all who will be included in the database. Educational privileges depend on the University where the student is getting education. They should be checked on the website.

The “I am a professional” olympiad has become one of the main projects of the presidential platform “Russia is the country of opportunities”. This year it is held for the third time. The competition is designed to find the most talented students and give them both additional space for career and professional growth with the development in the scientific field.

British scientists shocked!

It turned out that the ancient Celtic warriors fought with willow bark shields

Reading time 4 minutes

In Leicestershire, England, researchers discovered a 2300-year-old shield that was made from tree bark. This fossil is the only specimen of such a shield of the territory of Europe.

The shield dates back to 395–250 BC. Archaeologists say that the discovery drastically changed their ideas about weapons of the Iron Age and caused a heated discussion between experts.

Щит сохранился благодаря оставлению в заболоченной яме
The shield is preserved because it was left in a marshy pit. (Photo: University of Leicester)

“This is certainly an amazing object, one of the most iconic and world-important finds I have seen in all my work,” admitted Julia Farley, curator of British and European Iron Age collections in the British Museum.

In 2015, researchers from the University of Leicester Archaeological Service near the Soar River found a shield. According to Matt Beamish, the chief archaeologist of the study, objects from natural materials of this time are extremely rarely preserved, but the shield has survived in marshy soil. Maybe he was specially placed in a water-filled pit.

Matt Beamish added that shields from the bark of that period had never been found in the northern hemisphere before. It was assumed that the wood material was too flimsy for use in wars. However, the reconstruction of weapons from alder and willow proved that the 3 mm thick shield was light but reliable enough in the battles of that time. According to Beamish, contrary to researchers’ assumptions, such weapons were widespread in that period.

Процесс реконструкции найденного щита из ольхи и ивы
Alder and willow shield reconstruction process (Photo: University of Leicester)

The weapon is made of green bark, which is reinforced from the inside with slats of the same material. The main part is surrounded by a rim of hazel and wicker willow. Matt Beamish noted that “this is a lost technology,” which was not known before. Apparently, this technique was used in many areas for the manufacture of products from the bark.

Supple green tree, giving the shield strength and shape that remotely resembles the figure eight

“It was important,” says Farley. According to her, the Battersea shield had a similar shape. It was extracted from the Thames in the middle of the 19th century and dates from the same period.

Щит Баттерси
Battersea Shield (Photo: British Museum)

Farley argues that the visual world of the Iron Age is lost for us, since from the period 395-250 BC few artifacts left. She added that a new find for her is “a small window into that world.” For Farley, this awareness is “incredible and so exciting.”

The shield was donated to the British Museum. Farley hopes that the shield will be exhibited in the museum next year.

Garbage was at the bottom of the deepest point of the ocean

American explorer made a record dive into the Mariana Trench

Reading time 4 minutes

Victor Vescovo descended into the deepest point of the ocean. His bathyscaphe reached the bottom of the world famous Mariana Trench. The depth of immersion was 16 meters more than in the previous descent in 1960.

Впадина
Mariana Trench – Oceanic Deepwater Chute in the Western Pacific

The American explorer reached the Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in the ocean, its depth is 11,000 meters.

 

What did the researcher discover?

Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, was stunned to find something similar to plastic in the deepest point of the ocean. At this time, he was in a machine specially designed to withstand tremendous pressure. After spending four hours under water, he remembered only rubbish. It was a plastic bag and candy wrappers.

Plastic waste in the ocean, according to UN estimates, reached 100 million tons.

Последнее погружение достигло 10 927 м (35 849 футов) под водой - новый рекорд
The last dive at 10,927 m (35,849 ft) is a new record (Photo: TAMARA STUBBS)

For the last three weeks, Vescovo has dived four times into the Mariana Trench to collect various biological samples and forms of rocky soil. He is the third man who descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The last who tried to do this was Canadian film director James Cameron in 2012, and before that, one of the US Navy lieutenants in the 1960s plunged into the hollow. Vescovo dive was the deepest in history.

The expedition was watched by Atlantic Productions, which collected material for a documentary for the Discovery Channel. Work under pressure, poor visibility and low water temperature made it difficult to shoot. Anthony Geffen, creative director of Atlantic Productions, said it was the hardest shot in his experience.

Виктор Весково провел четыре часа, исследуя дно траншеи
Victor Vescovo spent four hours, exploring the bottom of the trench (Photo: ATLANTIC PRODUCTIONS FOR DISCOVERY)

“Our team had to pioneer new camera systems that could be mounted on the submersible, operate at up to 10,000m below sea level and work with robotic landers with camera systems that would allow us to film Victor’s submersible on the bottom of the ocean. ”

After the completion of the expedition at the end of this year, the team plans to transfer the apparatus to scientific institutions. After, the researchers will be able to use the device in further work.

T-Rex found new relatives

Recently discovered fossils have filled the missing link in dinosaur evolution

Reading time 5 minutes

Paleontologists recently announced in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex evolved from dinosaurs as tall as a small child.

Newly discovered dinosaur, called Suskityrannus hazelae, weighed approximately from 20 to 40 pounds. Its height reached only 90 centimeters. Tyrannosaurus Rex weighed about 9 tons and had a length of about 12 meters.

The lead author of the study, Sterling Nesbitt, a paleontologist from Virginia Tech in the US, said that the fossils of the cousin of Tyrannosaurus Rex represent one of the best examples of how a smaller family of dinosaurs evolved into monstrous superhuman.

Fossilized bones of S. hazelae, which existed about 92 million years ago on the territory of modern Western new Mexico (Photo: VIRGINIA TECH)
Fossilized bones of S. hazelae, which existed about 92 million years ago on the territory of modern Western new Mexico (Photo: VIRGINIA TECH)

«A small group of dinosaurs spawned the biggest predators we’ve ever seen», Nesbitt said.

On Monday, it was reported that Suskityrannus hazelae is an intermediate between smaller tyrannosaurs and giant, the last surviving members of the species.

«Suskityrannus is a key link between bone huge dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex and smaller types from which they evolved», said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist from the University of Edinburgh. He added: «The New species shows that tyrannosaurs developed many of their characteristic features, such as a muscular skull, a wide mouth, and cushioning legs when they were still small».

The scientist shows how small a part of the skull of S. hazelae is compared to the casting of the full-size part of the jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (Photo: VIRGINIA TECH)
The scientist shows how small a part of the skull of S. hazelae is compared to the casting of the full-size part of the jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (Photo: VIRGINIA TECH)

It is believed that Suskityrannus hazelae existed 92 million years ago, about 20 million years before Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Nesbitt says he first discovered the incomplete skeleton of Suskityrannus hazelae in new Mexico in 1997 and another more complete specimen in 1998. But in the decades that followed, scientists weren’t sure what it was until other fossils of smaller Tyrannosaurus Rex brethren were discovered.

Nesbitt found fossils of S. hazelae in 1997 when he was a teenager (Photo: hazel wolf)

Another tiny relative of Rex, Moros the Fearless, was discovered in February and is believed to have lived 96 million years ago.

«Suskityrannus gives us an idea of the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they took over the planet», Nesbitt said.

The report notes that Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth for only 15 million years before the species was destroyed. Smaller tyrannosaurs are thought to have existed 150 million years before Tyrannosaurus Rex. Incomplete paleontological data make it difficult to determine how dinosaur species evolved during this period of time.

Although the discovery helps to understand how Tyrannosaurus Rex evolved, paleontologists say it is still unclear why small carnivorous dinosaurs evolved to become so large.

Do you want to drop everything? This is not laziness, this is procrastination!

Why do we put things off until later, and how can we overcome our reluctance to work?

Reading time 5 minutes

Why do students often postpone difficult cases? Study Mode conducted a survey of 1,300 students, and found out: 87% of respondents always delay in completing a task, leaving it for later. Psychologists call this phenomenon procrastination. Sometimes this phenomenon is called a manifestation of weakness and laziness, but in fact, procrastination has deeper roots.

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastinator brain

Brain is to blame for the fact that man procrastinates. This conclusion was made by researchers from the Ruhr University. They used 264 volunteers, examined them with an MRI. Then the participants filled out a questionnaire in which they appreciated how they can control their emotions. Research has shown that some people have a much larger amygdala than others. This gland is responsible for controlling emotions. It means that it is difficult for a person to cope with his feelings.

In addition, this part of the brain of procrastinators has a weak connection with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which chooses what we should do. Normally, the interaction of the tonsil and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex helps us to complete our tasks and enjoy the process at the same time. Each action of procrastinators is the result of a struggle between these two parts of the brain.

Vicious circle procrastinator

One of the most unpleasant features of procrastination is a constant feeling of guilt and dissatisfaction with yourself. Deferred cases are done in a hurry – these actions affect the result and our well-being. There is a reluctance to take on new things. It turns out a vicious circle, and getting out of it is not so easy. 

 

How to overcome procrastination?

At first glance, it is impossible to overcome procrastination, because for this it is necessary to correct those parts of the brain that are responsible for it. You can’t change the brain, but you can cheat it.

  • Understand your task. We put things on a back burner, because the task seems to us simply incomprehensible. Students, for example, are afraid of a blank sheet. In fact, the task only seems so impracticable. It is enough to single out the purpose of the task, divide it into components and solve it in parts.
  • Work for periods. A common problem of procrastinators is the inability to think for a long time. As soon as we begin to perform tasks, we immediately get tired. It is necessary to set a timer and work, for example, 25 minutes. The main thing is not to make indulgences and not to finish the work earlier.
  • Minimize distractions. Put your phone in flight mode so that you will not be disturbed by calls and messages. Work in a place where no one will disturb you, and concentrate fully on the task.
  • Kindle your interest. Obviously, to perform tasks that are beyond your interests is difficult. But the brain can be deceived: it is enough to spend a few minutes writing a script in which this experience will definitely come in handy in the future. In addition, you can encourage yourself for work. When you solve a problem, watch a movie or go for a walk with friends.

 

The most expensive mistakes of space engineers

How one bug in the program and confusion of meters and feet can cost millions of dollars

Reading time 6 minutes

Developers of space projects sometimes make expensive mistakes. Let’s recall the five largest engineering errors of the space era.

Rocket «Mariner 1»
Ракета «Маринер-1»
Rocket «Mariner 1». Ph: NASA

Mariner 1 is the first apparatus of the NASA’s «Mariner» project (automatic interplanetary probes designed to investigate Mars, Venus and Mercury), the launch of which was scheduled on July 22, 1962. The apparatus was supposed to fly to Venus, however, after 293 seconds it deviated from the course, and was destroyed over the Atlantic ocean. According to the official version, the programmer made a mistake while translating the handwritten formula into a computer code: he mistook the index symbol for a regular dash. As a result, the on-Board computer software perceived normal speed jumps as critical, which led to a failure. The accident could not have happened, but the device’s antenna lost contact with the guidance system on the Ground, and the program automatically moved to plan «B». The engineering error cost $18.5 million, which the New York Times called «the most expensive dash in history».

 

Space station «Skylab»
Станция «Скайлэб»
Skylab space station. Ph: NASA

Skylab is the United States orbital station launched in 1873 (the first and only one). It was designed for Earth observation, astrophysical, technological, and biomedical researchs. Before the destruction, it held three space expedition, however, due to increased solar activity, it went off the orbit in 1979. The lowering of the Skylab accelerated, and since the station did not have its own engine, it was not possible to raise it to another orbit. According to the forecasts of the mission control Center, the station was to enter the Earth’s atmosphere on July 11, 1979 and sink for 1300 kilometers in South Cape Town. But the inaccuracy in the calculations by 4% led to the fall of some wreckage of the station in Western Australia. The damage from premature destruction was estimated at $10 million.

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope. Ph: NASA

Hubble was launched in 1990, but immediately there was a problem in its work: the telescope transmitted a blurred image. After checking, it turned out that edges of the telescope’s main  mirror were too flat, making the telescope «myopic». NASA scientists have developed a program for image processing and, at first glance, the problem was solved. But few months later, other problems were discovered (gyro failures, problems with solar panels and computer malfunctions), and NASA organized three space expeditions to eliminate those defects. One of them brought «glasses» for the telescope — optical correction system COSTAR. Manufacturing and delivering of «glasses» have cost NASA 49.9 million dollars, while since the beginning of telescope’s construction there were spent 6 billion dollars.

Mars Climate Orbiter
Аппарат «Mars Climate Orbiter»
Mars Climate Orbiter. Ph: NASA

Mars Climate Orbiter is an apparatus studying the Martian climate, which was launched by NASA on December 11, 1998. The main objective of the apparatus is to picture the surface of Mars and to study the dynamics of its atmosphere. Nine months later the unit arrives to the planet, turns on braking and begins to move on highly elliptical orbit. According to the calculations of engineers, the device was supposed to change the orbit to circular and to begin research two months later. However, 5 minutes after the start of braking the apparatus passed Mars and never sent any signals. After analyzing the errors, it turned out that the NASA team calculated the parameters of the decisive stage of the flight in the metric system, and the engineers of Lockheed Martin — in the British system (pound-force). As a result, the device crossed the orbit for 53 kilometers lower than required and disintegrated in the atmosphere of Mars; the loss amounted to $193.1 million.

Satellite «NOAA-19»
Спутник «NOAA-19»
Satellite«NOAA-19». Ph: NASA

The accident is not related to the software, but to ordinary sloppiness. In 2003, September 6, during the construction of the satellite, engineers have tried to move it to a horizontal position, but the device collapsed to the floor. The investigation determined that shortly before failure the technician has pulled from the truck 24 screws and has not documented it, but other staff did not check the presence of screws either. As a result, $135 million were spent to repair the satellite.