back to article NASA takes stick over feet and inches

NASA's insistence on sticking to pounds, feet and inches in its Constellation programme "could derail efforts to develop a globalised civilian space industry", New Scientist reports. Leading the fight to bring NASA into the metric fold is Mike Gold of the US civilian space outfit Bigelow Aerospace. His company is "dedicated to …

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@ted frater re. US Aircraft...

"..I dont want half a kilo of spuds i want 1lb of them.."

Actually, no. You want a number of potatoes, within a certain size range, that you think is convenient and reasonable, at the time. I bet you never, ever, actually get a pound of potatoes; you'll get 1.13 or 0.92 or even 1.21 pounds and you'll be quite happy to have them.

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Stop

Bah!

We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters? Case closed.

Which sounds better? "I walked for miles and miles" or "I walked for kilometers and kilometers"? Case closed.

The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass.

Fahrenheit is more precise than Celsius because Fahrenheit has 180 degrees between boiling and freezing where Celsius only has 100.

Furthermore, why do we have to conform to you? You want to be metric, fine. When I go to your country, then I will use metric. But when you come here, don't ask me to do something you are unwilling to do. When in Rome, do as the Romans as the saying goes.

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@american anon

No, our pint is larger than your pint.

The UK pint is 568ml, and the US pint is 473ml - so don't come around with your "a pint's a pound the world around" crap

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Boffin

Imperial

...refers to the Roman Empire, not the British Empire *actually* . The weights system is based on there being eight men in a Roman army unit (hence 1 pound of meat/grain = 2 oz per legionnaire) and seven days in a week (hence fourteen pounds in a stone). Try dividing 10 kilos of meat equally, by seven days and eight men, and see how far you get.

In another vein - who else remembers Nigel Planer in 'Brazil' - "Bloody typical, they've gone back to metric without telling us !"

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@Ed Blackshaw

If you have milk delivered by a milkman, it still comes in pint bottles. It's only those pesky supermarkets that have gone over to the dark side.

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IR

UK pint vs US pint

"As others have noted, the US Gallon is smaller than an Imperial Gallon -- ours is 3.8L.

Likewise US Quarts are smaller than Imperial Quarts. As you might guess from the above tidbit, a US Quart is very nearly the same as a liter (or litre if you prefer.)

But a Pint is a Pint, or IOW a Pint is a Pound the World Around. Our Pint is the same as your Pint."

No. A fluid ounce is the same everywhere. A US pint is 16oz, a UK pint is 20oz. Everything above a pint is scaled up from that, which is why US quarts and gallons are smaller than UK quarts and gallons. Not that anyone really uses quarts in the UK, it is a silly unnecessary measure - even more so when used to denote the sizes of containers. Why call something a 20 quart pot when 5 gallons makes more sense?

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In varietate concordia.

<pedantic type="hopeless">

Hollerith 1 is right: here in Septardia we kept using William III.'s (wheat) bushel and Anne's (wine) gallon even after you lot went Imperial under George IV. This is why we refer to our units as English rather than as Imperial - because these units were what the English used when we started using them, and because we never adopted the Imperial bushel and gallon.

Anonymous Coward of 12:58 GMT is wrong: the pints are the same only in that each pint is one-eighth of its respective gallon. They do not have the same volume: George IV.'s pint is around 568 ml, while Anne's pint is around 473 ml.

In any case, regarding NASA (and the rest of Septardic government), both the yard and the pound (and those derived units depending upon them) were redefined in terms of the meter and kilogram in 1959; ever since then, the yard and pound (and derived units) have been metric, although non-SI.

For anyone who might be interested in (and amazed that there could be) the logical underpinnings of the pre-Imperial system, I'd recommend reading the _Report of the Secretary of State Upon Weights and Measures_ (a Septardic government document from 1821).

</pedantic>

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Anonymous Coward

Lets suck it up

Both the US and UK should decree that everything be in metric by the end of the year, and that all routers support IPv6 and lets all learn Esperanto while we're at it.

Sorted.

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Stop

Getting to the Moon using Imperial Measurements

Wade Burchette:

"We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters? Case closed.

The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass."

So how many pounds did the Apollo Lunar Module weigh in space? How many on the surface of the Moon ? How many on the surface of the Earth ? Try calculating its momentum using weight rather than mass and see how far you get.

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Boffin

Disbelief

@Wade Burchette: "The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass."

I just cannot believe someone wrote this!!!!

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In varietate concordia.

<pedantic type="hopeless">

Hollerith 1 is right: here in Septardia we kept using William III.'s (wheat) bushel and Anne's (wine) gallon even after you lot went all Imperial under George IV. The reason why we call our units English is because they were the units in use in England at the time. We have never had Imperial units because we never adopted the Georgian bushel and gallon.

IR is wrong: the Imperial fluid ounce (George IV.'s gallon ÷ 160, or about 28.41 ml) is slightly smaller than our fluid ounce (Anne's gallon ÷ 128, or about 29.57 ml).

In any case, regarding NASA (and the rest of Septardic government), both the yard and the pound (and those derived units depending upon them) were redefined in terms of the meter and kilogram in 1959; ever since then, the yard and pound (and derived units) have been metric, although non-SI.

For anyone who might be interested in (and amazed that there could be) the logical underpinnings of the pre-Imperial system, I'd recommend reading the _Report of the Secretary of State Upon Weights and Measures_ (a Septardic government document from 1821).

</pedantic>

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Hmmm - Mel Gibson does 'Edge of Darkness'

NASA has been quite happily lugging European and Japanese payloads into orbit for many years now and the Shuttle regularly works with the ISS (and previously with Mir). All of which are designed in metric.

So what's the problem?

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@Wade Burchette re. Bah!

Reading your comments was like watching an intellectual and logical train-wreck, in slow motion. It was both fascinating and depressing but I kept on reading it. Amazing!

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@Graham Bartlett

The problems were indeed discovered in testing. It crashed. On Mars. But no doubt they'll add a test case for that eventuality and fire it up again...

Actually my current project does what you say: it flips between radians (for obvious reasons) and degrees (because the multi-page formula are all in degrees) storing an index into a conversion table for each value. The system proved so convenient I used it for distances, flipping between Parsecs, AU and Metres. So if people really wanted miles, it wouldn't be hard to extend.

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Imperial and SI, and their mutant offspring

As an engineering student in Montreal, the status quo here is to know and use both US Standard and MKS metric units; I just wrote an exam in which a problem had a mass in slugs (lbm being the alternative) and with cfs and psfg and all that; the next problem was in metric units. If we need to we can convert the units accurately. It's just rocket science, after all (and the Canadian Space Agency is just across the river).

I remind the metric fanbois that not even metric is standardized; there are MKS and cgs variants. Would you be able to solve a physics problem with forces in ergs? I'd have to look up or figure out the conversion myself.

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Anonymous Coward

Parts isn't parts

I'm tired of owning nearly identical sets of tools because my car seems to have half the engine assembled in metric and the other half in SAE. What dolt uses two different measurement systems when building something like this?

We studied metric when I was in school (U.S.), but the practical application in normal life didn't exist. If people knew the price per liter of gas in the states like they did a gallon or how many km/hr you could drive before getting a ticket, then we could probably switch pretty easily.

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Mea culpa.

Oops, my apologies for the near-duplicate posting; my browser had frozen up after submitting the first post.

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@Wade Burchette

[We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters?] You found Mars a bit trickeyer though.

[Which sounds better? "I walked for miles and miles" or "I walked for kilometers and kilometers"? ] How many steps was that? One kilometer is one thousand paces.

[The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass.]

To use a very British term with American spelling, "Bollox". A Kilo of water is the same amount of water at the equator, the North Pole or on the surface of Mars. Slightly more accurate, and useful, then your pound? That Kilo is (by definition) the mass of one litre of water, which is also (by definition), exactly one decimeter. (i.e. 1000L = 1 cubic meter). So if I have some water and can measure weight, volume or length, I can work out everything else without having to remember any 'magic numbers'.

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@ ted frater

Back in the early 90s I worked at BAe Hatfield where they designed the wings for the Airbus. The wings were designed in imperial, then the drawings were sent to France and converted into metric. Then the metric drawings came back to Hatfield where we milled the main spars on a mill calibrated in thousands of inches. The spars went to Chester where the wings were built (in imperial), and finally the completed wings were shipped to France to be mated with other parts of the Airbus made all over Europe in metric. It's a wonder any of the Airbus planes ever got off the ground.

Today I work for a classic car parts company and pretty much everything we sell is imperial, and I still find it easier to estimate 10 thou than 0.25mm.

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Go

Proof of Life

Surely the Mars crash test dummy was proof NASA does use metric measurements already. It's just they don't use them until they're half way through the mission.

When the inevitable happens, and we end up crashing a shuttle or probe into an alien spaceship, we can even use this as an excuse on the insurance claim form.

"I drove into the wrong orbit and hit a space ship that wasn't supposed to be there."

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One idiot crashes a rover and we must all change?

Look, if the fuckwit couldn't get feet to metres right, then what's the chance of getting radians to degrees right? Nevermind grads.

Metric is obviously superior for computational simplicity, but in engineering can't ignore the millions of bolts and other real things out there in PhysicalWorld.

Bloody yanks can't even spell metres right, so what is the chance they're going to use them correctly?

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Paris Hilton

Roman Mile

The term Mile comes from the Latin thousand steps during Roman marching. In fact, there is nothing British about most of our so called Imperial measures, as stated by various previous posters.

Since decimal figures can be represented by any number of floating points, I choose to support the Power of Ten.

Paris because I expect she'll be more impressed with 30cm than 12in. (She might even fall for 16V versus V6. Silly woman.)

PS. Love the new icons and plan to put them to good use!

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Boffin

@Jimbo 6

The Imperial system isn't all the Romans gave us. Not every fule no that the international standard railway gauge - four foot eight and a half inches, or 1435mm - comes from the average spacing between the wheels on a Roman cart. Flanged wheels were a later invention though, coming when we started building horse-powered railways to haul stuff out of mines, which is why the Romans didn't leave us a grid of straight railway tracks around Europe.

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@Wade Burchette

One of the reasons I write as many comments as I do to the Reg is to combat what I perceive as anti-American bias. In order to do this credibly, when a valid criticism comes up I have to readily admit that the US is "doin' it wrong". At the very least, if a critique is spot on then one should STFU rather than issue a lame defense. This is *definitely* one such occasion. Your defense is so lame that I would like to think it is all a put on (but hey, we all know that 'Mericans are irony challenged, right?).

I can add to what Marodi contributed by attesting that physical science classes in American universities (at least the ones I went to) have used SI exclusively for decades, and since the textbooks I used were popular ones, I can be confident that this must have been common practice at the time. A shudder goes down my spine when I think about having to have done my Physics major without good old metric units, it was hard enough without having to remember and apply all sorts of silly conversion factors. So long as you stay in SI, most of the conversion factors go away.

There was an attempt to convert the US to metric during the Carter Administration, but the forces of inertia were too strong and, IMO, Carter and company were too feckless to force the issue, unfortunately. Part of the resistance comes from the very real costs that transitioning imposes. The other part of the problem is mental inflexibility: as long as you continue to "think" in English units and convert to SI then you once again have all sorts of conversion factors that you have to worry about. Once you get to the point where you can leave things in meters or kilograms or whatever you are much better off, but getting there takes some adjusting.

@Murray Pearson: But, I might point out, 1M = 100cm, 1kg = 1000g, and seconds are the same in either system as you are well aware, not too hard to go from one to the other. And 10^7erg = 1Joule, my point being even if you have to look it up or figure it out, applying the conversion is simple to do. Now let's say I was measuring things in inches and ounces and wanted to find out the energy required for something, getting there would be considerably more of a headache I would assert.

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Unhappy

Decimal Schmecimal

Decimal fails because it can't deal with a third of anything.

0.3 recurring? Thats just bollocks, that is.

No-one listens....

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@Bassey

"You order bricks/sand/gravel by the yard.

[snip]... To say the UK is "mostly metric" is utter bollocks. Schools, yes. Science, maybe. Engineering, medicine and real life - no way."

The UK construction industry has been working in metric units since the 70's. Almost everything is supplied in metric sizes - allbeit based loosely on the old imperial dimensions (and those which are supplied in imperial sizes are generally for compatibility with older buildings) :

Bricks: 215 x 65 x 102.5mm

Concrete: m³

Bulk aggregates: tonnes

Bagged aggregate / cement: kg

etc

Timber is generally referred to as the "old" sizes (eg 3 x 2), but it is supplied to metric dimensions and it's not uncommon to ask for 2.4m lengths of 3 x 2...

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Boffin

@Daniel 10

> 1. It's founded on units that coincide with amounts human beings actually find convenient.

> Metric units are completely arbitrary and so less friendly than imperial units That's why very

> few people have one liter containers in their "cup"boards and why even the most SI friendly

> countries still drink "pints" of beer.

In today's world, both are fairly arbitrary (we don't ride horses or throw knotted ropes out of boats any more) but I agree that the imperial units fit more with humans. I've never been taught imperial units (grew up in South Africa, live in Australia). But, I think of human height in feet and inches (although I do metres just as well). Everything else is metric in my head. Including l/100km for fuel consumption.

And converting between things and relating things to each other is so much easier in metric. I know a litre of water or anything similar weighs a kg (yes, I know the kg is a measure of mass not weight, let's just assume Earth Gravity for now :-) ), I know a 10x10x10 cube is a litre (or kg).

But, I will take you to task on one point. The reason there are so few pople with "one liter" containers is that the only place on Earth such a bizarre thing exists is in the US where you prefer pints. The rest of the world uses "litres". Do you pronounce "liter" as "lee-ter" or "lie-ter"? Or is it part of the progression "lite", "liter", "litest"?

It's actually quite odd that you (plural) chose to adopt your own spellings for "litre", "metre", etc given that you don't use them and consider them foreign. Yet you've adopted your own spelling for them (maybe that's natural with foreign words or maybe it's just how American English works - "color", "thru", "lite", all very easy.

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Apollo Guidance Computer software used SI units

"We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters? Case closed."

Actually the Apollo Guidance Computer did it's computations in SI units [1]. The Apollo astronauts who were all pilots couldn't get their head around the metric units so it was decided that the instruments would dynamically convert and display in imperial units.

[1] "Digital Apollo" published by MIT Press.

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Headmaster

@Paul Smith

"That Kilo is (by definition) the mass of one litre of water...."

You forgot "at its temperature of maximum density", a rather important part of the definition.

In fact, these days the kilogramme is, by definition, the mass of the International Prototype Kilogramme and differs very slightly from the mass of a litre of water, due to almost (but not quite) insignificant errors in measurement when the original definition was refined in 1799.

This is the sort of thing that the Wibbly-wobbly-pedia is quite good for, although I saw Motorhead in 1984 and I'm pretty sure that Filthy Phil was on drums and not the International Prototype Kilogramme.

(I've had to go with "pedantic grammar nazi" here, as we don't seem to have "pedantic nazi" in the new set.)

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Kilogram

The kilo is defined as the mass of the standard kilo at Sevres. It was made to be close to the mass of a litre of water at STP, but that's not the *definition* - it still relies on comparison with one particular lump of metal. Pedantic, but important to remember if one is trying to claim some sort of metaphysical superiority for S.I.

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@Steve 120 re. Decimal Schmecimal

"No-one listens...."

That's because you're not only talking nonsense, you're getting confused.

This is a discussion about human-decided systems of measurement (pounds-kilos, feet-metres), not a discussion about numerical representation (1/2 - 0.5, 3/4 - 0.75). The two have nothing to do with each other.

Before the first cave-dwellers tried to share a rabbit between 3 people, the number 1/3 and the number 0.33 recurring had this characteristic. I'll try again - this article is not about numerical representation.

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Saturn V

I just got the Haynes Workshop Manual for Apollo 11 (yes!). Of course it doesn't really give you instructions for fixing the hardware ( "..first remove the [rocket] engine...") but it does have what looks like an original Boeing (I think) drawing of the Saturn V with lots of measurements on it. Every single one of them is listed in both Metric AND "English".

Who says Nasa can't do Metric? They apparently could back then.

And by the way, someone above compared Newtons unfavourably with Foot Pounds. They are different units for different purposes. Foot Pounds measures turning force around a fulcrum (as you said), the equivalent metric is Newton Meters not Newtons, which are just force, like pounds.

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Hmm

Try working out the price of 1lb 7+3/16 oz of something at 11/7d per lb. Now try working out the price of 0.657 kg of something at £1.28 per kg. Which was quicker? Which could you have done in the shop while the goods were still on the scales?

I bet retailers have been ripping us off for years.

"Try dividing 10 kilos of meat equally, by seven days and eight men, and see how far you get." -- I got 10/56 kg. of meat per person day, which is 0.17[857142]... kg. Since my scales can only read out to the nearest gramme, though, I made it 0.178. Same when spacing shelves evenly: round to whatever your measuring instrument is capable of. Only don't multiply *after* rounding, in order to distribute the errors evenly.

If you buy a tape measure on the Continent, it'll have centimetres across the full width, not just on the bottom edge; meaning you can measure left-to-right along the very top edge of a plank, not a centimetre and a half down.

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Pirate

The Biggest Issue is NOT the Naming

The biggest issue is the code. Every different value for distance, volume & mass requires a different calculation. When converting from one to another, say one volume level to the next & back again for the viewing audience (the values mean nothing to a machine) that calculations are all different when using imperial. When using decimal, everything converts by 10 times or 10 squared or 10 cubed or so on. Every conversion uses one derivative & that is the reason for converting to decimal.

I also like thinking in terms of feet & inches but have grown up with centimetres. Centimetres don't mean much when it comes to 185cms whereas 6ft 1" does. To a machine it has to know what that means exactly rather than figuratively in the way we humans do. Imperial measures need to be dumped. They also don't convert perfectly to decimal values.

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@Rex Alfie re. The Biggest Issue....

"..Imperial measures need to be dumped. They also don't convert perfectly to decimal values."

Since the computers use binary arithmetic for calculations, then a system based on powers of two would be more suitable (based on your argument).

i.e. ...8,4,2,1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8.... This may be a bit fiddly so we can use base-8 as a compromise. Since we have eight fingers, this seems natural, makes a lot of sense and will be easy to adapt to.

Note that an ounce expressed as a fraction on a pound is 0.0001 in binary and 0.04 in octal. See, much easier to work with for computers.

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Coat

Confused? You will be ...

The world has agreed on A4 (etc) for paper size. The world except for the US which sends me certificates for my IT skills that I have to fold to fit in plastic pouches.

The world works on Kilometers to go places.

(With the odd local exception like road distances in the UK and the German word for 'miles and miles' meilenweit which is easier to say than kilometerweit. Oh damn my examples are falling around me)

I'm 6'1" and weigh lots of stones, but will sell stuff in 25kg bags, 40 to the tonne cos it's easier that way and £sd is far superior to £p and I can add it up in my head and give change. What a useful skill.

No I need my size-10 shoes or is it size 28 or American size 11 (always 10% bigger than ours), with my coat size something Lord knows what, and I'm going now ...

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Big Brother

Metric

"The metric system is the work of the devil! My car gets 82 rods to the hogshead and that's how I likes it!"

Seriously, I get really irritated when people lump all Americans together in a single stereotype and make claims against that straw man. How about the Brits? Are they not all cloned from the same gametes and educated in identical cubicals? Cookie cutter people. Anybody having a non-approved opinion is taken in for re-education. "We are individuals!" "I'm not!"

Yes, that's correct, Dave Coleshill. Those of us living here now are actually close to 300 years old (if not older) as well as all having identical opinions on all matters. Because some people in the past spitefully decided to change a lot of terms and the way we did a lot of things just to be different from the English means that we've had a consensus throughout history. Oh, and the "we" that rebelled 200+ years ago is the same monolithic entity that's here today.

Thank you for stereotyping me, I appreciate it.

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Screw em all

I use electron volt, h-bar = c = 1 units

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