There is an amazingly well writen report on the aborted launch of the first(?) shuttle because the computers did not sync up. I remember reading this report and it being fascinating and prescient about the field of computer science: as systems became more and more complex, it becomes impossible to mathematically proof that your program is correct and new ways of testing are needed.

However, I seem unable to find the report. The best I could find was a New York Times articel referencing the abort

The space agency said tonight that it had identified the problem that had caused the computers aboard the space shuttle Columbia to refuse to ''talk to each other'' properly this morning. The computers balked just before the Columbia's scheduled launching, causing at least a two-day postponement of the spaceship's shakedown cruise.

Would anyone be able to help me find this report?



1 Answer 1


There are several writeups on this. Perhaps you are thinking of the famous "Bug Heard Round the World" article.

Here is the introduction.

On April 10, 1981, about 20 minutes prior to the scheduled launching of the first flight of America's Space Transportation System, astronauts and technicians attempted to initialize the software system which "backs-up" the quad - redundant primary software system ...... and could not. In fact, there was no possible way, it turns out, that the BFS (Backup Flight Control System) in the fifth onboard computer could have been initialized properly with the PASS (Primary Avionics Software System) already executing in the other four computers. There was a "bug" - a very small, very improbable, very intricate, and very old mistake in the initialization logic of the PASS. It was the type of mistake that gives programmers and managers alike nightmares - and theoreticians and analysts endless challenge. It was the kind of mistake that "cannot happen" if one "follows all the rules" of good software design and implementation. It was the kind of mistake that can never be ruled out in the world of real systems development: a world involving hundreds of programmers and analysts, thousands of hours of testing and simulation, and millions of pages of design specifications, implementation schedules, and test plans and reports. Because in that world, software is in fact "soft" - in a large complex real time control system like the Shuttle's avionics system, software is pervasive and, in virtually every case, the last subsystem to stabilize. Software by its nature is the easiest place to correct problems - but by that very nature, it becomes a tyrant to its users ard a tenuous and murky unknown to the analysts. Software is the easiest to change .... but in change, it is the easiest to compromise.

  • $\begingroup$ If this isn't the one you are looking for, please comment, and I'll add other possibilities. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10 at 12:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That was the one! It wasn't a NASA report, I was searching for the wrong thing. Thank you very much! $\endgroup$
    – Edgar H
    Commented Apr 10 at 12:14

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