"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong," goes Murphy's Law, a law which has been mentioned in this column time and again. This law is said to trace its roots to a United States Air Force base, where it gained popularity among aircraft technicians. "Murphy" was the name of an Air Force member who, in 1949, discovered an incorrect wiring at the base. It was then that he murmured his famous statement, which spread from there and took a number of forms, its popularity a testament to how well it matched the feelings of technicians.
Among those alternate forms is one along the lines of "The likelihood something will break is proportional to its value." This calls to mind Japan's X-ray telescope "Hitomi," which cost 31 billion yen to develop. The nature of its damage has recently come to light, and hopes of restoring the telescope to working order have been abandoned.
Communications with Hitomi stopped last month, and observations by a U.S. organization found it had broken up into over 10 pieces. At first it was thought to have possibly been due to a collision, but analysis came up with a different story. A combination of problems with the software involved in controlling the telescope's positioning and incorrect commands being issued to the satellite led the device to spin incorrectly and break apart. This fits another variation of Murphy's Law that goes something like, "If a series of something goes wrong, it will go wrong in the worst possible way." Hitomi was meant to help reveal the secrets of the universe, but, sadly, what it ended up providing evidence for was Murphy's Law. We call for a thorough investigation into the causes of the failure.
To the satellite's designers, voices from the public saying, "Who cares about that satellite. Hurry up and make more daycare nurseries," must sting to hear. We, however, wish for a review into this failure that will satisfy the public, and a revitalization of the dream of making space something that we can look at and enjoy together with our children. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)