Scientific Breakthroughs That Weren’t
The Wonders of Science
The appliance of science is helping researchers make our lives easier and healthier. As a result, we can all expect to live longer and benefit from awesome new technologies along the way. But scientists’ unquestionable determination to make the world a better place doesn’t always go according to plan. Not every new breakthrough has the potential to help mankind. Failure is part and parcel of being a scientist.
Some experiments, however, fall laughably short of the mark.
Many believe you get what you pay for, so when NASA adopted a ‘better, faster, cheaper’ philosophy prior to developing its Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when it disappeared without a trace. It plunged into oblivion, allegedly because NASA used the metric newton to plot its course when, in fact, it had been engineered to be guided in English poundal units.
In the same year, the Mars Polar Lander suffered a similar fate – reportedly, because of one missing line of computer code. The $185 million spacecraft, completed with two Deep Space probes, lost contact with ground control and has been AWOL ever since.
Scientist Winthrop Kellogg developed a theory in the 1930s that a chimp could be trained to become human – if it grew up with a human baby. Unfortunately, he put his theory to the test with his own baby son, David. The experiment was stopped after nine months when it became clear David thought he was a chimp and not the other way around.
Plato said, “Science is nothing but perception.” Wise words, as many a failed experiment or fluke event has led to unexpected new discoveries. American engineer Percy Spencer developed the first microwave oven in 1945 after a fluke encounter with melted chocolate. The snack was in his pocket when he walked in front of a vacuum tube, known as a magnetron, which is used to generate microwaves. After a few experiments, Ping! The first computer-like microwave oven was born. However, it would be another 20 years before a smaller version made the appliance a must-have tool in every kitchen.
Transcribing the Future
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