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.

 

 

Stunning masterpieces of miniature art

Tiny creations of Salavat Fidai, Edward Kazaryan and Hasan Kale

Reading time 4 minutes

Pencils are familiar to everyone from childhood; we draw or write something with them. But Salavat Fidai found another use for this writing instrument.

The artist created this work from the 4th time. The photo is published in the official Instagram account.

Salavat Fidai has long been interested in miniature art, performing reproductions of famous paintings on a variety of surfaces: matchboxes, pumpkin seeds and rice grains.

Some of the reproductions of Salavat went to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

In 2014, he discovered another material for his little masterpieces – pencil lead. His works became popular, and Salavat Fidai, with the help of his fans, released an illustrated album in 2016. Some parts of this book can be found in the public domain.

Backgammon from black obsidian and gold in rice grain. Edward Kazaryan.

Edward Kazaryan is a famous Soviet microminiature mechanic. He became famous for his ability to work with the smallest details. His works were kept by Stalin, Khrushchev, Queen Elizabeth. Among the miniature masterpieces of Kazaryan you can find a poppy seed, which depicts a scene with Gulliver in the country of Lilliputians, figurines of football players from black obsidian inside a polished human hair, a real violin and a bow inside a needle ear. Some of his works are moving: Charlie Chaplin is twisting a cane. Ten works of the miniaturist are listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

There have been tragic incidents in his work. Once, a pigeon pecked up a drying grain of rice, on which the master, by request of the Louvre, painted a copy of Aivazovsky’s painting The Ninth Wave. So three months of hard work and one million dollars were spent – that was the price of the order.

Edward Kazaryan was a professional musician. He played a concert together with the Yerevan Symphony Orchestra with the help of one of his miniature violins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hasan Kale chose food as a canvas for his masterpieces. The artist draws mosques and landscapes on chocolate drops, nuts, sugar and raw pasta.

With such an original bouquet, the miniaturist artist congratulated all the women on his Facebook page.
With such an original bouquet, the miniaturist artist congratulated all the women on his Facebook page.

Hasan Kale is an active user of Facebook and puts his work on public display.

A miniature created using a sugar cube.

Saved Alba: freedom with the risk of life

The albino orangutan returns to the wild

Reading time 5 minutes

The infrequent orangutan albino was saved from inhabitants of one of villages in the Borneo Island last year.  The other day, after successful rehabilitation, female was released back into the wild nature but the threat of animal’s life  remains.

Альба
Альбу выпускают на волю

The Kalimantan Central agency of preservation the natural recourses (BKSDA) and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Fund (BOSF) saved Alba at the beginning of 2017. She was captured by inhabitants of Tanggiranga, remote village in the Indonesian part of Borneo. Alba had a stress, dehydration and suffered from parasitic worms. The animal was taken to Nyaru Menteng orangutan rehabilitation centre.  

Alba was planned to be released into the wild nature in a few month, but her recovery convalescence took more time than it was expected. As an albino, she is susceptible to many diseases, she has poor eyesight and hearing, oversensitiveness to the light and predisposition to skin cancer. Alba is the only known albino orangutan in a history of this species. 

According to BOSF, Alba together with Kika, other rehabilitated orangutan female (not albino), were released to Borneo national park (BBBR). Originally, BOSF planned to surround a 5 hectares of the forest area and keep Alba under constant observation, but ultimately it was decided that orangutan should move freely in its natural habitat. 

«Thanks to intensive care provided by our special veterinary team and tutors of Nyaru Menteng Orangutan rehabilitation centre, Alba recovered and showed excellent skills of ascension and socialising», — noted BOSF in the statement. 

Транспортировка орангутангов происходила в специальных клетках
Транспортировка орангутанов происходила в специальных клетках

After hard 16-hour travel by land and the river, which Alba and Kika spent in the cages, BOSF team arrived into the BBBR National Park. BOSF published the video showed Alba and Kika’s travel. 

Currently Alba actively moves in the forest area, usually at the hight of 115 feet (35 metres). Her fast adaptation to the forest life is not surprising, as she doesn’t have the «inferiority complex» and feel herself confident in comparison with the other orangutans, said veterinarian Agus Fatoni to the Associated Press. 

Альба в естественной среде
Альба в естественной среде

Albuanadela has a tracking bracelet, and she will regularly be examined by the medical team  within the next six months. Environmentalists are concerned about her health, but they are even more concerned about potential poachers: Alba with her white wool and blue eyes is really vulnerable. The national park staff and nature conservation agencies organized the patrol in this area, however they recognize that opportunities for this purpose are limited.

«It’s really big adventure, but we hope that we will manage to implement this project successfully», — said BOSF executive director Dzhamartin Sikhit soon after Alba’s  releasing into the wild nature. 

Putin in Trump’s hotel – a fake or provocation?

A portrait of Vladimir Putin had been hanging in Trump’s suite for a month, and no one even noticed it

Reading time 4 minutes

A provocative artist, Brian Whiteley, announced that he hung one of his works in a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is located 15 min away from the White House, in a room №435 on the first of August 2018.

In his email to American publishing company Hyperallergic, Whiteley declared that a lot of guests had stayed in a room № 435 after he placed the picture: and it seems like no one was even bothered by this piece of art because there were no complaints. The artist connects this situation with an idea that people are undoubtedly devoted to Trump regardless of the political course he embraces.

Тучи сгущаются над Белым домом / Фотография Брайна Уайтли
Darkening shadows above the White House/ Brian Whiteley’s Photograph

In this painting, we can see Vladimir Putin sitting on a chair. Behind him, there is the White House, above which we can notice darkening shades and storm clouds, resembling the beginning of the Apocalypse. The interesting detail is that the Russian President wears Donald Trump’s red tie that unites them and — according to the artist — captures the essence of a «cult of authoritarianism» created by Trump in the US.

A Whiteley’s close friend — willing to stay anonymous — commented on this situation to the magazine Hyperallergic telling that they booked the room for a night specially to hang the painting. After, they went out drinking and later asked some Trump supporters to come over to their room. When they saw a painting, one of them said: «Putin, fuck yeah», which totally surprised him away.

«Заставил Америку вновь ненавидеть» / Фотография Брайна Уайтли
“Made America Hate Again” / Brian Whiteley’s Photograph

In fact, Brian Whiteley frequently uses his art to express his opinion on Trump’s politics. For instance, in March 2016 he placed a tombstone signed «Trump, Donald J.» with an epitaph: «Made America Hate Again» in Central Park. The work was removed after three hours, but still managed to become an Internet hit.

Now it is impossible to see the painting  because, according to Whiteley, the artist returned to the hotel and took back his masterpiece after a month. And only then he was noticed by security and he got escorted from the hotel as quickly as possible.

However, the hotel’s administration claims the whole story to be fabricated and none of these happened for real.

Портрет Путина покидает отель Трампа / Фотография Брайна Уайтли
The portrait of Putin leaves the Trump’s suite/ Brian Whiteley’s Photography

It is difficult to say if the painting of Vladimir Putin truly had been placed in Donald Trump’s suite or if it is really nothing more than just a good PR method, but anyways it cause a wide resonance in society and it is going to be discussed for a while.

Why Today We don’t Drink “Caffè”, Meet «Deadlines» and Ask “Wut is This?”

Филолог Юлия Кувшинская разрушает три мифа о русском языке

Reading time 4 minutes

Myth one: the Russian language is being simplified

– Yes, it is getting more democratic in the sense that it has become normal to use colloquial language even on television. But the vocabulary has not been simplified or more limited. Conversely, we have got more terms and borrowings. Such words as background, feedback and deadline now are clear to every student; they are widely used and have become a part of our lives.

Julia Kuvshinskaya, philologist, associate Professor, HSE
Julia Kuvshinskaya, philologist, associate Professor, HSE

In general, any language cannot live without borrowings. In Russian there are a lot of Turkish and Tatar borrowings from the Tatar language, they have become completely habitual. Many people believe that sarafan (pinafore dress), baraban (drum) and kaftan (a kind of tunic) are native Russian words. If a word has entered the Russian language, it is bound to be Russified, which involves an aesthetic factor. For example, coffee is masculine and associated with the drink which aristocrats “ate” in the 19thcentury. This moment is aesthetic, social, indicating a certain status but in no way linguistic. We do say moskovskoye metro (in the neutral gender), not moskovski metro (in the masculine gender), though the word metropolitan (undergroung), of which metro is an abbreviation, is masculine. It is essential to follow natural laws of the language.

Myth two: the Internet distorts the Russian language

– There used to be such a negative influence, but now there is a downtrend. It has become clear that to be understood it is necessary to speak good Russian, although elliptical sentences and abbreviations are still used to save time. Sometimes one can come across phonetic spelling. For example, wut instead of what, but there are not many such words. Now a lot of young people have mastered the art of “linguistic transformation”. At work, for example, they use elegant Russian, professional, which is formal and rich enough. And in the informal communication they speak like a totally different person, talking in youth slang, which is widely perceived as aggressive and almost flash language.

Myth three: obscenities and non-literary language are the same

In the fight for the “language purity ” some would go to extremes. Some “grammar-nationalists” even proclaimed themselves overseers who drive away all the “impure” from their “pure language”, which is an absolutely fascist stance. Linguists never do this, as they are interested in new phenomena and they are aware that language is very complex and diverse. In some cases, of course, it is necessary to make corrections. For example, obscenities are offensive others, and I would stop the person who uses it. But sometimes a grandmother would speak in a touching vernacular language. Why should it be corrected, because it is such a wonderful old-style speech. It sounds incorrect and non-literary but in everyday life this vernacular is appropriate not offensive. The choice of linguistic means should depend on the situation.

Interviewed By Maria Timoshenkov

Success Secrets of Masha and the Bear

«Анимаккорд»: как возникла самая успешная российская студия анимации

Reading time 8 minutes


One of the episodes got over1 billion views on YouTube, all around the worlds related products are sold, and the creators have managed to produce two cartoon spin-off about a little girl and a big bear. We found out how the most successful Russian animation studio was created.

Where did Masha appear from?

Animakkord Studio was created specifically for the Masha and the Bear project completely on the money of the investors, whose names were not disclosed. According to thef serial co-producer Dmitry Loveyko, it was not clear, whether the project would shoot off / be a success or not, but in the creators hands there were 8 scenarios, and the entire series’s plan has been developed. Fortunately, investors were ready to wait for five years until the series would be recompensed and return the money to them. All was left as to to set up technical project line, engage experts, prepare the intellectual protection and work out a marketing campaign.

Initially, creators did not plan that the studio would have a complete production cycle. From the very beginning two Russian animation studios offered to take up all the technical side of the cartoon production. However, six months after the launch the authors realized that the Russian studios basis was good but it was not enough. “For licensing activities and development of the brand it would better if the entire production of” Masha “was focused under our control,” – says Loveyko. Therefore, it was decided to set up his own studio in 2008. Due to a crisis many studios were closed so it was possible for “Masha and the Bear” to recruit a highly professional team.

All the technologies and staffing originally were built to create an animated TV series of premium status in all components: animation, image and music. “We realized that there were a lot of animated series, especially in the West and in Asia – says Dmitry Loveyko – as it is required format for today’s niche of children’s television.”

To avoid being like anyone else in the market, the creators decided that the cartoon hallmark should be a three-dimensional animation with a very high level of imaging. The benchmark for the series was the 3D animated movies like Pixar and Dreamworks.

Who is Masha?

“The idea of the show came from the fact that we wanted to present the relationship between adults and children is not a didactic, but in a comic form so that all the spectators had a clear understanding of that heroes experience”, – says the director of the project Denis Chervyatsov.

According to Chervyatsova Masha has been drawn from a real prototype. In 90th Art Project Manager Oleg Kuzovkin was resting on the sea and saw a little girl on the beach. The baby was so genuine and open for communication that could easily come up to a stranger and play chess with him or pick up flippers and go to swim in them. However, after a few days holidaymakers began to hide from the girl – so active and annoying she was. This story stayed in Kuzovkin’s head and a few years later came into the idea of the serial.

Plots for the serial creators were also takenf rom private life. “Most of us have children, – says Chervyatsov. – Those who are engaged in animation, copy the behavior of their children or friends, in the same way as writers do. ”

International success

The series about the friendship and adventures of a little Russian girl and a big bear quickly gained popularity all around the world. The cartoon is broadcast in 22 countries, and one of the series, “Masha + kasha” brought together more than a billion views on YouTube, becoming one of the 17 most popular videos in the history of the service.

The popularity of the series is explained by its creators in a simple way: such a light-hearted, playful and cheerful “Masha” is present in almost every family, irrespective of its nationality. “I think that all children up to 5 years in any country are not much different” – says Denis Chervyatsov with a laugh. In the series, there are no long dialogues. According to the creators, they made an accent action rather than on dialogues, they are closer to the silent movies format, where everything is clear without words.

In addition to the audience recognition “Animakkord” also won professional respect. One of the most influential professional publications, Canadian Journal Kidscreen, since 1996 has presented its own award called Kidscreen Awards, a kind of Oscar in the field of animation. In 2015, Masha and the Bear won Best Animation nomination for this award. Moreover, Kidscreen called this studio one of the most successful production companies of the year on a par with such masters of animation as the Cartoon Network Studios and Dreamworks Animation Television.

What’s next?

Apart from the main series Masha and the Bear it has been expanded to two spin-offs. Masha’s fairytales were launched in 2012, and in 2014 they released their second spin-off Mashkin’s Horrors. In Masha’s fairytales Masha introduces the viewer to the world of Russian folk tales, and in the horror stories” she tells“scary” stories, which in fact become / turn funny and instructive. The creators of the show do not want to comlete it, hoping to further expand the universe of the project. Together with partners Animakkord creates a network of interactive learning/ educational museum. Masha and the Bear alsoproduces magazines and educational computer games.

However, the producer is sure that in the next couple of years, Masha and the Bear will just remain a series, they are not considering full-length film because it need huge resources. Since the project has no state maintenance, Animakkord can count only on themselves.

“I hope that in a year or two we will become a full-fledged international brand, then if we have a partner with a successful experience in the production of three-dimensional full-length films, of course, we will consider cooperation”

– says Dmitry Loveyko.

Now in the studio there are about 100 employees, who work simultaneously on several cartoon series. It takes about three months to create one series.
According to Sosial Blade estimates, through advertising on the YouTube brings to Animakkord about $ 1.5 million per month. Most of the profits of the project comes from the licensed products with Masha and the Bear. This is food, stationery, toys and much more. An agreement on the products of the same brand has already been signed by Annimakord with major players in the market as Danon, Burger King and the German toy maker Simba Dickie. As estimated by the studio, this year’s sales revenue could reach $ 300 million, which would mean a $ 15 million profit for the company.

The producer gives a simple explanation of the success of Animakkord: “Masha” is made with love and a very good team of professionals. “We work on the principle that the next series should be better than the previous one” – says Loveyko. Masha and the Bearis primarily a “series that is clowanage, a clowanage that is clear on all continents to adults and children.