Out of this World Excel Error

Tim Peake blames Excel format error for phoning grandmother by mistake.

Error Type: Format error; incorrect use of Excel.

Reported on: 29th December 2015

What happened?

British astronaut Tim Peake phoned grandmother Betty Barker, 79 from the International Space Station by mistake.

What caused the error?

Excel isn't really that well suited for storing phone numbers. Anyone who has tried this will see Excel dropping the leading zeros or displaying it as a something like 7.56E+08.

It was reported that Tim Peake was caught out by Excel "rounding up" his list of phone numbers meaning that he then simply dialled the wrong number.

I am struck by the curious image of an astronaut floating in space in the International Space Station with a spreadsheet up on his laptop dialling home. You would have assumed it would have been a bit more high-tech than that! But it seems not.

How could the error have been avoided?

Let's be honest this is quite a funny story, and no harm done here. In fact, Tim Peake probably made Betty's day!

It does however flag the risk of using Excel to store information that could be stored in a more appropriate app.

Use caution whenever you use Excel to store non-financial numbers, like telephone numbers or reference numbers that start with zeros. Using an apostrophe at the start will ensure that leading zeros are kept.

Read the article published by the Telegraph here.

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