The Great Kersten Blunder: was it real?

A Google search for “the great Kersten Blunder” turns up many results, such as this one. The claim is that a programmer named Kersten screwed up a measurement conversion factor, causing the $2B “Vigor space probe” to miss Venus and become lost in space.

The problem is that I can’t find any mention of a “Vigor space probe” that identifies who launched it or what its mission was.

So what’s the deal? Was there actually a “space probe” named Vigor, targeted at the planet Venus, that was lost due to a faulty measurement conversion factor in the software?

What exactly is the Vigor space probe? I can’t find it.

Try the Mars Climate Orbiter.

CMC fnord!

Hopefully, it won’t come back as V’gor.

That one gets mentioned on metrology websites in the same list as the great Kersten Blunder, IOW they seem to be regarded as two independent things (although the MCO, and the nature of its demise, is very well documented).

Well then did it, or rather does it, actually exist?

:dubious: You’re asking one of the questions I implicitly asked in my OP.

Given the lack of specifics on the internet about who might have launched it and why, until someone can present evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to think it never existed.

What was his first name?
Kersten and Vigor sounds like something made up on the web that people find and copy without fact-checking.

It sounds made up to me. Official lists of space probes to Venus (or anywhere in the solar system) do not include any Vigor probe.

I sent an email to the Bad Astronomer to see if he’s familiar with the story and can shed any light. I’ll post back if I get a response.

I agree - which is why I’m asking around for facts. :smiley:

And a response already from the Bad Astronomer!

How subtle:

Using “Vigor” to probe “Venus”.

My inner 13 yr old is snickering…

I made one last stab and sent an inquiry to the National Physical Laboratory, who published an educational guide to measurement in mechanical engineering that includes the Kersten Blunder as an anecdote. I asked if they knew the source of the story, and received a very nice response that “sadly, it may indeed be recycling an urban myth.”

And as evidence, he linked to this thread. :slight_smile:

This is all becoming weirdly incestuous. The guide you mentioned is the very one in which I first read about the Great Kersten Blunder (and why I inquired here! :smiley:

This thread is rapidly getting very meta.

There was a Venus probe (Mariner 1) which failed due to a typo in the code specification https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariner_1#.22The_most_expensive_hyphen_in_history.22 - I wonder if that story got merged with the Mars Climate story to create this “Kersten” blunder story.

That sounds quite possible. The Vigor name may be an echo of the two Venus landers, Vega 1 and Vega 2.

Perhaps there’s a rocket scientist named Kersten somewhere, having to periodically deny he was to blame for that legendary blunder that probably never happened.

Depending on the two interlocutors’ accents, someone might hear “Vigor” from someone saying “Vega”.

As the above-linked Wiki pages documents, there is a lot of speculation over what happened. The thing about the hyphen is just one story that got around.

At the time, or for some time thereafter, the standard story going around was that it was a one-character punctuation error in a FORTRAN program:
DO 5 K = 1. 3
that should have been
DO 5 K = 1, 3
In FORTRAN, both of the above are valid and mean very different things.

That was the widely-held story. The Wiki page now debunks that, suggesting a lot of different hypotheses.