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Number 8 Vasa
The Vasa was built by order of the King of Sweden, in the 17th century. It was a representation of King Gustavus Adolphus’ ambitions for himself and the future of Sweden. Even though it was unstable, the Vasa left Stockholm for its maiden voyage, on August 10, 1628. The ship’s center of gravity was too high, meaning that anything stronger than a breeze would’ve caused it to keel over. The problem came down to the hull’s construction, which had an asymmetrical distribution of mass. That’s because the teams working on the vessel used both Amsterdam feet and Swedish feet.
Number 7 Spanish Submarines
In the early 2000s, the Spanish navy commissioned the construction of four diesel-electric submarines. The project would cost upwards of $2 billion. In 2013, as one of the S-80 submarines was nearly completed, it was discovered that 70 to 100 tons had been added to its weight. This was the result of a miscalculation in which an engineer had put a decimal in the wrong place. The extra weight meant that the submarine couldn’t resurface after diving. Lengthening it was considered as a means of increasing its buoyancy at a cost of $8.2 million for each 3.2 feet. Navantia, the state-owned company in charge of building the submarines, brought on General Dynamics Electric Boat to help tackle the weight issues. The company has been the primary submarine builder for the US Navy for over a century.
Number 6 Y2K
While the Y2K event turned out to be quite harmless, the build-up to it suggested an impending apocalyptic scenario. Some fringe groups and individuals even made doomsday preparations. In reality, it was a rather simple numerical problem. Many computer programs represented four digit years, with only the final two digits. This made the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900, thus causing system glitches. The errors were expected to cause a domino effect and bring about technological problems. However, many countries addressed the issue and upgraded their systems, so there were only a few minor failures reported when the clocks rolled over to 2000.
Number 5 Polar Diet
Between 1910 and 1912, explorer Robert Falcon Scott led a team of men to Antarctica, in an expedition known as Terra Nova. The latter was due to a miscalculation of their caloric intake. Simply put, they ate food that was too high in protein and two low in fat. The men hauled their supplies, dragging sledges by hand, across hundreds of miles of ice and snow. In doing so, they consumed more calories than Olympic-level athletes.
Number 4 Sally Clark
The prosecution relied heavily on its expert witness, pediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadows. The Royal Statistical Society published a statement in 2001 claiming there was no statistical basis for such a calculation.
Number 3 Quebec Bridge
The span of the bridge had been lengthened from 1,600 feet to 1,800 feet, so that its pillars could be built closer to the river bank, at a lower cost. Funding was supplied by the Canadian government in 1903. The schematics were rushed so that steel production for the bridge could begin, and the weight wasn’t recalculated for the extra length. As the bridge was nearing completion, one engineer noted that some of the steel beams had become bent. By the time his warning reached Quebec, it was too late.
Number 2 Economic Bubbles
Economic bubbles could very well be placed in a list of their own. For the sake of brevity, we’re giving them, as a whole, the number two spot. One of the first examples was Tulip Mania, in the 17th century Dutch Republic. The tulip had been recently introduced and it was unlike any other European flower. It was considered fashionable, exotic and a true status symbol. Prices for bulbs rose to staggering heights before suddenly plummeting, in February 1637.
Number 1 Air Canada Flight
The aviation incident was subsequently deemed the “Gimli Glider”. An investigation revealed that one of the problems had simply been a matter of unit conversion. At the time, the aviation sector in Canada was transitioning to the metric system. While all of the company’s aircrafts were still using Imperial units, the 767 had already been calibrated for metric units. However, this went unnoticed by the ground crew as well as the pilots. The calculations for the amount of fuel needed were done in pounds instead of kilograms. This led to the aircraft flying with roughly half of the fuel it required to make it to its destination.