Conversion Troubles

Challenger1983Despite the fact that NASA’s spokesperson has admitted that NASA needs to make the jump to using the International System of Units (SI units), it will be building its next space shuttle using Imperial units. The international community is complaining that this will make their shuttle difficult to use by other countries because of the conversions that will be necessary for them to use it. Additionally, it shows that NASA hasn’t learned from the incident back in 1999 when it lost an unmanned probe due errors in unit conversions between metric software and SI systems on board. NASA argues that it would cost entirely too much to convert their equipment and blueprints to SI units instead of the archaic Imperial units they currently use.

It has always really frustrated me that the system of measurements I learned in school is not universal and, more importantly, is not the system being used by most scientists. We’re at enough of a disadvantage in science due to the fact that many of us speak different languages, can’t we at least have a universal measurement system?  I understand that it would take a lot of money to make the switch, but we’d pay to make the switch once and from now on everyone would be on the same page. Heck, Canada has already done it (mostly)!

For an article on NASA’s decision to stick with Imperial measurements, check this out.


8 thoughts on “Conversion Troubles

  1. Our resistance to using metric units has baffled me, too. I could understand it if metric had the same adoption rate as Esperanto, but come on. How are we supposed to lead the world in science or technology if we’re the only country refusing to stay up to date?

  2. I wholeheartedly agree, but also know many people for whom giving up the imperial units, even if it happened solely in scientific circles, would be another claim of victory by globalization. As much as I can relate with this, I feel that rationality should be the force guiding anti-globalization activists on chosing the battles that make sense and serve to protect something that’s actually a part of the national heritage and not just a drawn out picking of sides on a totally arbitary matter.

    On another note, I feel SI units are much simpler to comprehend to someone learning length, weight and area units for the first time.

    Hope someone can make sense of my tired ramblings 🙂 and thank you for an interesting and enlightening post.

  3. As someone brought up in Canada mostly under metric but with some vestiges of imperial units, I can usually intuitively make the length and weight conversions quickly. Stuff like fluid ounces and temperature are the bane of my existence though. It’s nice to have a consistent base for measurement when you’re just starting out learning, base 10 might as well be it. I feel it’s much more difficult to learn Imperial units with a metric system background due to its changing bases and nomenclature than to learn metric coming from an Imperial background, unless you’re an old fogey.

  4. I can’t imagine sticking to Imperial is going to be particularly cost effective. With spcae technology globalising somewhat, that means you have companies in Europe, China (even though the US probably still have trade restrictions in place there), Russia and the rest of the world who can make the stuff you want to run your rockets, but if you’re working in Imperial, something that does the same job is going to cost you a bundle more because either a) companies won’t take the job cause the units are wierd, or b) they’ll charge more because you’re asking them to do what is essentially a special order.

    It’s not like not using metric for everything hasn’t already cost NASA $125 Million in ’99, and however much the DART crash cost too (Admittedly DART had a lot of other problems too).
    Or are they going to wait till Ares crashes into the ISS and people die before they’ll change?

  5. Canada has a long way to go to kill off the imperial measurements.

    I know my height in foot/inch, but I have no clue what it is in centimetres. I know my weight in pounds, but not kilos.

    We might have litres & celsius, but that’s about it.

    I think it’s pretty annoying, because I’m stuck with two systems in my head.

    To Americans, sure Canada probably sounds like we’ve got these cool metric measurements and everything must be so much easier, but really it’s even worse because some things are metric and other things aren’t.

    I’m only 24 so it’s not like I was even taught Imperial in school, but yet I know a litre is a quarter gallon, a kilogram is 2.2 pounds, a foot is 12 inches, an inch is 2.5 centimeters, 0c is 22 f, -40c is -40f and 36c is 98f.

    Why do I need to know all this? Because there is only one country left that still uses imperial!

    It’s not nearly as cool having metric up here as it seems.

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