NASA is at work correcting an error in one of the sensors aboard the International Space Station that was causing misreadings of radiation and recording false data. Who pointed it out? 17-year-old British student Miles Soloman, of course.

As part of something called the TimPix project, students in the UK have access to work on real data pulled from the ISS. They dig through it looking for anomalies and patterns and Soloman actually managed to find one.

The radiation sensors were recording negative readings, something that doesn’t exist for radiation. NASA had believed the negative numbers were cropping up once or twice a year, but Soloman was seeing them coming up multiple times a day according to the BBC.

NASA says thanks, Miles

Soloman sent an email to the agency. University of Houston professor Larry Pinsky, who works with NASA on the radiation monitors, said the correction was “appreciated more so than it being embarrassing.”

NASA is a science organization, after all – having accurate data is more important than a bit of pride.

It seems like a simple thing, but the ISS has all kinds of sensors pulling all sorts of data, and there’s more of it than NASA can really afford to go through. Readings on radiation could end up being used to help create gear used in something like a Mars mission, where astronauts would be exposed to space radiation for long periods of time.

Having the right shielding and sensors is crucial for a mission like that to work. If we’re reading incorrect data, it could put astronauts in a situation where an alarm is going off that shouldn’t be, or worse, one’s not going off when it should be. Giving civilians access to this data helps put more eyes on it and that benefits everyone involved.

Professor Becky Parker, of the Institute for Research in Schools, which runs the TimPix project, said that experiences like this one can help attract more students to STEM subjects by making the science more applicable to the real world and less theoretical.

Soloman, for his part, gets to be the guy who rang up NASA and said, “well, actually…”