Two kinds of country?

We return after a break with a short article from one of our supporters about a recent film release.

Last week saw the release of “First Man”, a film about Neil Armstrong who, nearly 50 years ago, was the first man to walk on the Moon. One of mankind’s greatest achievements.

Amongst the conspiracy theories and misinformation surrounding the Apollo missions, there is an anti-metric meme, sometimes used on social media, that asserts that NASA did not use the metric system in the Moon landings. The meme reads something like this: “There are two kinds of country – Those that use the metric system, and those that have landed on the Moon.”

However, even in the 1960s, NASA engineers and mathematicians worked, at least partially, using the metric system. As is the case in the UK with road signage, the use of metric units in America is often hidden from public view. A good example of this is the Lunar Module Guidance Computer, the onboard computer that assisted Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their descent to the surface of the Moon. Internally, the computer’s software used metric units for powered-flight navigation and guidance calculations, and values such as altitude and altitude-rate were then converted to imperial units for display console purposes.

Perhaps a new meme is needed. How about: “There are two kinds of country – Those that have used the metric system to land on the Moon, and those that haven’t been to the Moon”.

For further reading see:

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8 Responses to Two kinds of country?

  1. Toby says:

    It is certain that the next country to put a man or woman on the Moon will be one that uses SI aka metric as its primary system of measurement.

  2. BrianAC says:

    Very interesting, a surprise but it should not be really.
    As I and a few others here have tried Imperial calculations on a computer we know it is difficult to put it very mildly. Back in the day it would have been all but impossible on anything but a mainframe. Until I worked out how to do it myself I saw others converting from Imperial to metric, doing the calculations, then converting back to Imperial, which is basically what NASA was doing here. with the human input/output.
    I guess that is easier that re-training a human.

  3. Daniel Jackson says:

    Before his death, the head of NASA Wernher von Braun in a TV interview once stated that he loathed USC and never used it. Von Braun internally did all of his calculations in metric. I often wonder how many conversion errors caused delays, loss of life and other problems. I'm sure the conversions didn't result in rounded USC values but rounding was done and it resulted in errors.

    In the beginning of the film, the astronauts were in a capsule that had supposedly risen to the edge of space (which is at 100 km) and in trying to return were bouncing off the atmosphere and going higher up. The altitude shown on the altimeter was 115 000 feet and was going up and down from this figure. This was only about 35 km above the ground and in no way even close to the edge of space. The average person viewing the film would not know this and would falsely assume the capsule made it into space.

    NASA's latest projects going back to 2009 were still resisting metrication. Private aerospace companies using the metric system complained to the Obama administration and all of these projects were canceled. NASA then became an administrator handing out contracts to private companies using the metric system.

    Here is an article from the time in New scientist that points out the problem:

  4. Michael Glass says:
    That's a really interesting article!

  5. BrianAC says:

    @ Daniel Jackson 2018-10-17 14:20
    I have often wondered about this with the UK fledgling space fiasco.
    I have upped my research into rockets given that UK seems to have woken up on one side of the bed, but gone into collaboration with Lockheed Martin on the other!
    USA, UK and others benefited from the German rocket technology after WWII, all of which would have been in metric units. A gift wrapped present that USA and UK re-wrapped in Imperial.
    In the case of UK it was made much worse by trying to develop rockets with France, the UK stage in Imperial and the French stage in metric. It never did work.
    The UK part, Black Arrow did get into space somehow, but new to me is that France developed its Diamant rocket which became Ariane 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and now 6.
    Here we are 49 years latter and probably going to make all the same mistakes with the pre-knowledge that it will be an expensive mess from start to demise.
    Interesting parallel, the 'Bloodhound Project' similarly plagued has recently gone into administration.
    My opinions only.

  6. Daniel Jackson says:


    Inspire the next generation about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
    Share an iconic research and development programme with a global audience.
    Set a new World Land Speed Record of 1,000mph.

    Miles per hour are not scientific and non-metric units and global audience are incompatible. Maybe China or some other powerful metric country can set a World Land Speed Record of 1800 km/h or 500 m/s.

  7. BrianAC says:

    @Daniel Jackson
    I was hoping it would be bought out by France, Germany or Ireland. Not very patriotic of me, but that is UK today.

  8. Daniel Jackson says:


    I'm sure the reason the project failed was due to the lack of interest world-wide resulting in no to limited financial backing. Not because they used miles but because there is no economic or technical gain from pursuing it. In the past there was an interest no matter what the cost of breaking barriers even if there is nothing to gain from it. Today there is not.

    The mile barrier just adds to the ridiculousness of it and gives it an un-scientific and nontechnical aura.


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