back to article US space programme in shock metric conversion

We are sure our readers have been enjoying NASA's footage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch to the ISS earlier today, but amid the excitement, you may have missed another historic moment for the US space programme. Listen carefully... That's right, at around 1:10, a mission control operative explains: "Altitude 5.3 kilometres, …


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      1. Scott 1

        Re: Not likely.

        Does the U.S. government require that:

        - all our scales read in pounds?

        - our food containers are measured in ounces and pounds?

        - our drinks are usually measured in ounces, pints, quarts, and gallons?

        - our meteorologists report the temperature in Fahrenheit?

        - our sports teams measure their fields, courts, and arenas in feet?

        - our construction industries primarily refer to feet and inches when specifying material sizes?

        (side note: many government construction contracts use metric)

        - our sportscasters talk about a linebacker's size in feet and pounds or a baseball pitcher's speed in mph?

        AFAIK, the only thing our federal gov't can do is *recommend* that the states label their highways and roadways in kilometers and KPH.

        1. Bill Neal

          Re: Not likely.

          The Freemasons are quite fond of the system. There has been evidence to support that the modern yard was even used as a standard for megalithic construction. Old habits will not go away easily.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not likely.

          IANAL, but that being said, I was a Political Science major, and I can answer alot of these questions for you.

          >Does the U.S. government require that:

          >- all our scales read in pounds?

          No, but food scales in supermarkets and such are regulated by the individual state governments and as such are generally required to be accurate in pounds as well as in Metric.

          >- our food containers are measured in ounces and pounds?

          I believe the FDA requires it, as does the USDA, yes, though there are always metric weights on packages too, which I believe is also required.

          >- our drinks are usually measured in ounces, pints, quarts, and gallons?

          Same with food, the FDA and USDA require that measurements be in both metric and customary.

          >- our meteorologists report the temperature in Fahrenheit?

          Thats one Ive never understood, because a good number of divisions inside the National Weather Service, like the Space Weather Prediction Center and National Hurricane Center do most of their work in metric units. Celsius kind of sucks.

          >- our sports teams measure their fields, courts, and arenas in feet?

          No, but some sports governing bodies specify feet, yards, meters, kilometers or miles for their venues. Look at the International Rugby Board's laws for Rugby Union, it specifies that the field should be measured in meters. On the same coin, look at the NBA's rules for basketball, their measurements are in feet.

          >- our construction industries primarily refer to feet and inches when specifying material sizes?

          Alot of that has to do with building codes, which are a State issue, not Federal.

          (side note: many government construction contracts use metric)

          ^^True, though Ive noticed that some GSA contracts tend to use customary for whatever reason.

          - our sportscasters talk about a linebacker's size in feet and pounds or a baseball pitcher's speed in mph?

          Well they could talk about sizes and speeds in metric, but not too many people would really understand.

          The Feds could change everything over to Metric, it could be done legally, but it would cost much more than it would save and they realized this in 1977.

          The better idea is to convert specific Agencies and Administrations, like NASA, that have a scientific, military related, or international mission as well as parts of specific other agencies like FEMA, which for instance still uses Americanized measurements for Radioactive contamination on their radiac sets and such, like the Rad, Roentgen, and Rem. While the very same radiac in use by the Army will measure in Sieverts and Grays.

          1. Michael Dunn

            Re: Not likely.

            Perhaps we could also at last get American cooking recipes in terms that the rest of the world can understand: I ask you, how do you measure a quarter of a cup of butter?

            1. Ragarath

              Re: Not likely.

              You buy a £1.99 set of cups from the supermarket as my wife finally had to when using recipies from the other side of the pond.

              Like all measurements there are implents to measure it. You just need to have them.

              Just the same as someone without scales asking how they measure a kilogram of flour or something along that vein of thought.

            2. graeme leggett Silver badge

              Re: Not likely.

              More than that, why measure something that is (to all intents and purposes) solid in unit of liquid (or at least free-flowing) measurement?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Not likely.

                Urgh, why would you want to cook an american recipe anyway? Processed foods are not raw ingredients, onions do not come in a packet, and Monterey Jack is NOT CHEESE.


                Jesus. Taste of nursing home more like.

                1. PT

                  Re: Not likely.

                  "...Monterey Jack is NOT CHEESE."

                  It's worse than that. If you read the label on a well known brand of supermarket American cheese slices, it clearly states them to be "cheese flavored FOOD SUBSTITUTE". Actual words. Not only is it not cheese, but it's not food either.

            3. Bill Neal

              1/4 cup of butter?

              2oz. Of course many sticks of butter here have the wrapper labeled in both systems, and most recipes would call for a 1/4 stick. Also every 'merican measuring cup I have seen has both metric & "standard" (as we like to call it)

      2. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Not likely.

        "Had to learn it? We've been teaching metric units for the last sixty years."

        you don't need to learn it, you just need to have it explained..once, ten minutes tops and thats it for life

        no need to worry about insane conversion factors how many bushels per second in a foot pound per acre etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

        all we need to do now is decimalise time, dump all them awkward 60's from the business and we'll be set

      3. Charles Manning

        They'd just redefine meters

        Just like Alabama - or wherever - tried to redefine pi = 3, a federal attempt to force metres on people would just see some state defining the meter as being the same as 1/1000 of a mile.

        It is after all a meter. Can't expect that to be the same as a metre.

  1. Reality - What a Concept

    Where have you been for the last FIVE years?

    NASA Finally going Metric? NASA went Metric in 2007!

    NASA Finally Goes Metric by StaffDate: 08 January 2007 Time: 04:00 PM ET

    They just didn't bother converting the Shuttle documentation, but every new program uses metric units of measure, even if the parts are still based on inches. Too many mix-ups with metric tonne vs imperial ton, etc.

    "My Jacket gets fourty rods to the hogs head and that's the way I likes it"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm fairly sure that I read a story in the last year or so (and I'm fairly sure it was on the 'Reg) about NASA going metric for future missions/projects.

    1. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Err...

      I recall speaking with some merkin infrastructure engineers a few years back and gently ribbing them about what is 7/16 of a mile in furlongs etc etc when they told me that in some states some utilities have been metric for years. causes no end of fun when the electricity company is laying cable by the yard and trying to avoid that big ol water main thats about twenty meters from the road intersection..

      Makes you wonder why nasa never got some of them blokes to at least check their sums

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Err...

        "what is 7/16 of a mile in furlongs etc etc "

        Well, it's 3½, obviously. And, since the meter is based on the furlong (no, really) that's easy to convert to French units - it's 700m.

        The metric system is based on the odd proposition that if evolution selected ten fingers for us then it must be a good base for measuring things. It's not.

        1. Naughtyhorse

          Re: Err...

          I get the whole factorisation argument, and i concede that 12's 16's etc make sense from that regard, and 10 is particularly useless for dividing stuff up.

          But i think where decimal wins is in conversion factors, which (excluding those where time is a factor) always come out as 10's or multiples thereof. we all count in base 10 (speak for yourself earthling) it therefore makes sense to measure everything in the same base we use to count.


          (or not as the case may be)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's like this.

    Here in my house, I use Fahrenheit, and the girlie uses Centrigrade.

    So the obvious and correct inference is that the metric system is for girls.


    1. Al Jones

      Re: It's like this.

      I know how you feel - my missus is way smarter than me, too.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's like this.

      by the way, the word Centigrade has been deprecated a long time ago (1948 if you don't feel like reading).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's like this.

        but it is graduated in 1 hundred parts!

      2. L.B.
        Thumb Down

        Re: RodB

        Perhaps your reading comprehension is not that good, as from the link you used:

        "For scientific use, "Celsius" is the term usually used with "centigrade" otherwise continuing to be in common use."

        Note the last part.

      3. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: It's like this.

        It may have been deprecated, but I don't know a word for the silliness of reversing the sense of Celsius!

        On the original Celsius scale 0 was the boiling point of water and 100 was the freezing point of water at Standard Atmospheric Pressure. Centigrade was never subject to that particular ambiguity, but all temperature scales are quaintly irrational.

    3. Levente Szileszky

      Re: It's like this.

      She could just be the smart one - you couldn't even figure out how to register...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's a unit for that.

    Hectometres. You don't hear that prefix much, though for some reason hectolitres is what brewers measure beer in. 'Sides, plenty of people say awkward things. Thousands of kilos? Megagrammes, really. Or more practically, tonnes. Millions of kilometres? Gigametres. And so on. Maybe NASA can do some good getting the rest of the country to get with the times, too.

  5. Deadlock Victim

    To quote Gandpa Simpson

    "The metric system is the tool of the devil. My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!"

    1. Frederic Bloggs

      Re: To quote Gandpa Simpson

      40 rods = 1 furlong per 48, 54 or 63 gallons, depending on which sort of hogshead you are storing your fuel in (ale/beer/wine respectively). That is spectacularly crap consumption, even for a merkin gas guzzler. Or even an Abrams tank.

      I'll get my coat. I clearly need to get out more.

  6. Boris S.


    Hope all goes well with the docking, etc.

  7. K. Adams

    "US space programme in shock metric conversion"

    Am I the only one who read the title and immediately thought of the Mars Climate Orbiter?

    -- Wikipedia: Mars Climate Orbiter

    -- --

    1. Anonymous John


      SpaceX using metric, and the ISS using Imperial. What could possibly go wrong?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No.

        "the ISS using Imperial."

        Linkz or retract.

        1. Anonymous John

          Re: No.

          Only joking. I have a good feeling about this mission.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    all or none

    Let me know when you expect to implement metric time.

    1. Mike 140

      Re: all or none

      Could be tricky. There is no official SI equivalent to the year.

      Enough of this. Time for a few 568mls.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: all or none

        I propose we alter the orbit and spin of Earth so that the result of dividing the time to orbit the sun by the time taken for a full rotation of the earth is exactly divisible by 10.

        I propose 10 hours in a day, 10 days in a week, 10 weeks in a month and 10 months in a year. A year would contain 10,000 hours rather than the existing 8766 hours.

  9. Zebo-the-Fat


    I would like to welcome our friends over in the colonies to the 20th century!

  10. JeffyPooh

    "We are directly under the Sun..."

    "Altitude 5.3 kilometres, velocity 225 metres per second, and downrange distance of six-tenths of a kilometre."

    Those numbers seem overly-precise considering that they would have been outside the allowed significant figures allowance by the time he spoke the first word.

    "Altitude 5. ah 5. ah 5.5 .6 .7 .8 .9 6.1 6.3 6.5 .7 .9 7!..."

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    0.6 mile is a KM (to at least 1 sig dig).

    Did someone pull a NASA Mars Orbiter again? Maybe they really meant 1.6KM... 1/0.6 if you ignore the sig dig for a moment.

    The only claim to fame for SI is ease of units conversion. At the bottom of the stack, until recently, were just lumps of iridium alloy stashed away in France. Purely arbitrary, might as well use the length of King somebody or others arm. Now of course, there are purely arbitrary numbers of wavelengths.... (for length), that at least pretty closely match the lumps of iridium, well, more or less unless you look really closely. As for mass, well, that seems to be shrinking for some reason but we won't go there. Probably a plot to debase gold or something by the French desperate to reduce their deficit by making it look like their treasury has more troy ounces (hahaha) of gold... well, if you convert to metric anyway.

    We'll ignore the volt, what a debacle that was! No, not the Volt, the volt (we all know the Volt is a fire waiting to happen, or Ampera to anyone in the EU... I refer to the SI volt, which has two versions depending on when your deeply erudite research paper was written...).

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Suspicious

      ".....or Ampera to anyone in the EU...."

      Er, no. The Chevrolet badged variant is a Volt over here too. Only Vauxhall / Opel ones are badged as Amperas.

  12. Tim Ward

    Wot about aviation?

    We're still having to cope with:

    feet and meters and nautical miles

    for measuring distance, and

    liters and US gallons and UK gallons and pounds and kilograms

    for measuring fuel, and

    pounds and inches and kilograms and centimeters

    for measuring balance, and

    knots and miles per hour and kilometers per hour

    for measure speed, and so on and so on. Yes there are accidents which are partly or wholly caused by using the wrong units or getting conversions wrong.

    1. bep

      Re: Wot about aviation?

      Well I think the justitication was that the aviation industry was dominated by the USA, but I wonder if that's still true? High time it was converted to metric if you ask me, although I might avoid flying for a couple of years when the actual conversion is taking place!

  13. iainr

    But Britin is metric, last week I ordered 10m of 1/2" piping and a couple of 2m lengths of 2"x4".

    Working things out on the bike is a bit trickier as they don't give mpg (or KM/l) figures but I work on the basis that 17l of 4star will get me about 150miles (at 76 mph)

    1. MrZoolook

      Quote: But Britin is metric, last week I ordered 10m of 1/2" piping and a couple of 2m lengths of 2"x4".

      And London is only 93 miles from here. But before I drive it, I am going to buy a pint of milk and top up my tank with fuel. Only a few litres ... because I get 45 miles-per-gallon... Boy am I glad we went decimal :/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        before you go don't forget to check that you have a minimum of 1.6 mm of tread on those second hand tyres you bought for your 16 inch alloy wheels.

        And don't go to close to the car in front, even at 20mph you need 6 metres to think and another 6 to brake (

    2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Measure them...

      2"x4" timber is never 2 x 4 inches anyway: the dimensions are the freshly-cut size (and for European timber are metric 50x100mm). As the wood dries, it shrinks.

      Half-inch pipe is actually 22mm OD . No, that's not half an inch, and neither is the bore (inner diameter of "half-inch" pipe is 10mm), but then, "old" half-inch pipe wasn't half an inch either...

      I lived in Germany for a while, and often heard people asking the butcher for a "Pfund" of meat - they got 500g, not a pound, and a pound wouldn't have been 454g anyway - the old Bavarian "Pfund" weight was 560g. And that is the reason why we all gave up on "traditional" measures: they weren't the same everywhere.

      Even now, compare US and UK mpg figures. American cars are thirsty, but not that thirsty (also, the testing regimes differ, but that's something you can only see if you convert the quoted figures to litres per km)

    3. Jan 0 Silver badge

      I think you'll find that your 2"x4" came as 1.8 or 2.1m (i.e 6 or 7 feet!). Timber is sold in lengths which are multiples of 30cm (i.e ~feet). I'm amused by the way I can still buy, for example, "une livre de pommes" in France.

      76 miles at 150mph could be more fun on my bike, but I'd need a bigger tank:(

  14. Big-nosed Pengie

    About bloody time

    But old habits die hard. I watched the launch and the announcer was using imperial units - miles, pounds, football fields and so on.

    1. Naughtyhorse

      Re: About bloody time


      i think the football field is technically a reg unit!


      1. Jeff from California

        That depends.

        Which 'football' are we referring to; real football or the American spectacle of the same name?

        Ah. You said 'field'. Everybody knows football is played on a 'pitch'. That resolves that confusion. Carry on…

    2. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: About bloody time

      Surely, they switched from imperial to metric mid-flight.

  15. Dunhill

    ok ... for our american friends .. something very simple (in metric)

    we have a hole in the ground

    long 9 meters

    wide 6 meters

    deep 3 meters

    we fill the hole with water

    how much does the water weight in kg or pounds??

    and how much time you needed to calculate the result ?

    to help a little bit:

    1 liter of water weights 1 kg


    9 meters = 9.84251969 yard = 29 feet 621⁄64 inches

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