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<Top Ten Most Infamous Software Bugs Of All Time ⁄ >




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Looking through some of my favorite articles of all time, I came across this jewel from 2005 - Wired News's 10 Worst Bugs in History. I remember at the time I felt like their list was incomplete, and it has always bugged me a little bit (yes, pun intended). So I decided to do something about it. After taking a look at 20 or so of the worst software failures in history, I have compiled my own, updated, top ten list...

# 10 - Mars Climate Orbiter Crashes (1998)

A sub contractor who designed the navigation system on the orbiter used imperial units of measurement instead of the metric system that was specified by NASA.
Result - The $125 million dollar space craft attempted to stabilize its orbit too low in the Martian atmosphere, and crashed into the red planet.

# 9 - Mariner I space probe (1962)

While transcribing a handwritten formula into navigation computer code, a programmer missing a single superscript bar. This single omission caused the navigation computer to treat normal variations as serious errors, causing it to wildly overreact with corrections during launch. To be fair to the programmer, the original formula was written in pencil on a single piece notebook paper - not exactly the best system for transcribing mission critical information. Then again, this was 1962...
Result - 237 seconds into the mission that was supposed to sent Mariner I to Venus, the space craft was so far off course that Mission Control had to destroy it over the Atlantic. The cost of the spacecraft was $18.2 million in 1962.

# 8 - Ariane 5 Flight 501 (1996)

NASA certainly isn't alone in its spacecraft destroying software bugs though. In 1996, Europe's newest unmanned satellite-launching rocket, the Ariane 5, reused working software from its predecessor, the Ariane 4. Unfortunately, the Ariane 5's faster engines exploited a bug that was not realized in previous models. In essence, the software tried to cram a 64-bit number into a 16-bit space. The resulting overflow conditions crashed both the primary and backup computers (which were both running the exact same software).
Result - 36.7 seconds into its maiden launch, the self destruct safety mechanism was activated due to the computer failures, and the spacecraft disintegrated in a spectacular fireball. The Ariane 5 had cost nearly $8 billion to develop, and was carrying a $500 million satellite payload when it exploded.



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