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The Last Stop For Space Station-Bound Software

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the debugging-is-a-little-harder dept.

NASA 39

Normally I avoid slide show type articles, but this one is actually pretty interesting. It starts "This NASA lab contains a recreation of the computer systems found onboard the International Space Station. It is the place where the final bug testing takes place before software is uploaded to the station and where software engineers recreate bugs that occur onboard the station in an attempt to help fix them."

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39 comments

Wow (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395296)

So your saying they actually test software FIRST? Incredible!

Re:Wow (1)

hsmith (818216) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395732)

I buy this as much as I do the moon landing was real!

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34395810)

So your saying they actually test software FIRST? Incredible!

Well yeah, that's because Microsoft isn't involved.

Pedantry (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396326)

Wouldn't "The Last Stop For Space Station-bound Software" be the space station, and not the testing environment?

Re:Pedantry (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396384)

Wouldn't "The Last Stop For Space Station-bound Software" be the space station, and not the testing environment?

No, from this point on it's go, Go, GO!

Re:Pedantry (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#34400176)

Yeah, QA doesn't care about it anymore. Once it's shipped, it's tech supports problem.

Re:Pedantry (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34402734)

How about "The Penultimate Stop for Space Station-bound Software"?

Re:Pedantry (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34402764)

Wouldn't "The Last Stop For Space Station-bound Software" be the space station, and not the testing environment?

I thought more about this and I think it's correct. There are two stops the software makes: testing, and the space station. At the first stop, it's bound for the space station. At the second stop, it's not bound for the station anymore since it's already there. Thus, the first stop is the last stop for the space station-bound software. And the last stop is the first stop for the software that's at the space station.

Re:Pedantry (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34406142)

I disagree, when the software is in the process of making the stop on the space station, it is still space-station-bound. It doesn't stop being bound for the space station until after the stop, so the stop occurs while it's still bound for the space station.

Shit this sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34395366)

Shit this sucks

Forgot One? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34395384)

Where the heck do they get off not posting the ICONIC CAMERA I? [wikimedia.org]

Where is place where the movies and tv's shows com (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395474)

Where is place where the movies and tv's shows come from that are sent up there as they can get moves still in theaters and likely they are DRM free.

Re:Where is place where the movies and tv's shows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34395640)

thepiratebay.org?

When it flips out (1)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395508)

At least when it flips out and tries to kill everyone on the space station, we'll know why.

Testing? (2, Funny)

Logical Zebra (1423045) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395550)

They're testing their software in an accurate environment? They're not pushing beta testing onto their users?! Preposterous!

Re:Testing? (2, Funny)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395624)

Why do you think NASA is so expensive?

Re:Testing? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395656)

Because they make us think they're going to mars so we'll give them money to do the sort of testing necessary to make things work reliably on the missions they actually fly.

Re:Testing? (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395662)

They don't run Linux? /SARCASM

Re:Testing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34395852)

They have to make sure the "aquarium" screensaver works anywhere.

Re:Testing? (3, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396168)

They have to make sure the "aquarium" screensaver works anywhere.

Those fish have trouble in zero gravity.

Re:Testing? (1)

drcheap (1897540) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396412)

The solution...flying toasters. They actually like the zero gravity, makes things easier.

Re:Testing? (1)

flanktwo (1041494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34397626)

The ejected toast could be a good projectile in microgravity but having the toaster try to cook itself from the lack of convection probably isn't so good.

I wonder... (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#34395802)

...have they caught any last minute bugs that, had they been released, would have caused damage, injury or death? ...how many HAL-9000 references they use when testing.

Re:I wonder... (2)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396154)

Don't forget... HAL 9000 had a ground-based testbed "twin", SAL 9000. Too bad they didn't try lying to it about its critical and super-secret mission before doing so to HAL. They only tried that afterward, as a debugging replay.

Re:I wonder... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34396904)

well, i'm not sure about that... but there certainly have been some interesting times with the computers on board. THere are some computers which basically are like HAL and run most of the station... they are known as C&C computers and since they are so critical... there are 3 of them. And they constantly are in hot standby.

Interesting enough, the crap hit the fan during stage 6a, and being here, I can tell you that everyone was looking to blame someone else's subsystem. The canadian robot arm was being installed and so people were very suspicious it had something to do with it, but it basically turned out to be hard drive problems on all 3 C&C computers.

The cool story here is that the idea that you could have a triple-redundant system fail seemed so far off that it was almost thought impossible. Even still, some engineer had this idea to write this little program which would jump into action if it ever saw all 3 C&C computers offline. The program was called "Mighty Mouse".

During the episode, things went really bad. Lights were out. Comm was out. At one point people were trying to confirm whether commands were coming up and down by looking out the windows and seeing lights get turned on and off. But... mighty mouse saved the day. It kept cyclicling power to the 3 C&C computers until it saw a healthy one and for a while C&C2 came back online and let the ground controllers get some data and start fixing some issues.

All is fine now. I believe they have replaced the hard drives with space hardened solid state drives... but it was one of those interesting periods during early space station construction where software was an integral part. you can read all about this here:

http://spaceflightnow.com/station/stage6a/010426fd8/index2.html

Re:I wonder... (2, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#34397846)

The cool story here is that the idea that you could have a triple-redundant system fail seemed so far off that it was almost thought impossible.

Heh, well it would be, if the estimated probability of failure for each was truly an independent random variable. The excrement usually hits the fan when it isn't. Like, say, a hard drive with an unknown defect where a certain access pattern can make it fail. 3 machines doing the same work means they could all fail for the same reason at about the same time.

Or an old example that was basically just doing "redundancy" wrong, the telco that laid two fiber optic cables -- you know, cus the CTO read that redundancy was important! -- directly side by side. So when the inevitable backhoe came along and accidentally cut one, it cut both.

All is fine now. I believe they have replaced the hard drives with space hardened solid state drives...

Huh... Do you have any idea what the failure mode was? If it was a solar storm or other such event, then it would make perfect sense that all 3 systems conked out at the same time in defiance of all probability.

Anyway, that is pretty cool. And it shows the kind of folks who work at NASA that they decided that triple redundancy just wasn't enough and they needed a last-ditch recovery mechanism.

Re:I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34399652)

QA in the real world:

"What if this absurdly rare thing happens, it would be horrible!" "Shut up, write a defect and go back to regression testing"

QA in NASA:

What if this absurdly rare thing happens, it would be horrible!" "You're write, we'll spend 50 million dollars to develop 3 contingency plans around that failure state after we engineer it out of existence."

that's the last stop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34395988)

I thought for sure it'd be wikileaks.

Dont put Windows up there (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396170)

A worm with a similar complexity as stuxnet [nextbigfuture.com] could give a lot of new meaning to crashing flying vehicles to big buildings

Re:Dont put Windows up there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34396418)

A worm with a similar complexity as stuxnet [nextbigfuture.com] could give a lot of new meaning to crashing flying vehicles to big buildings

they use windows for their laptops but not critical systems. besides, what kind of idiots(government) would attack the INTERNATIONAL Space Station? pissing off the whole planet isnt exactly a good idea.

Re:Dont put Windows up there (1)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396896)

pissing off the whole planet isnt exactly a good idea.

Yeah, you'd need urine velocity in excess (due to wind resistance) of escape velocity. Talk about chaffing!

Re:Dont put Windows up there (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 3 years ago | (#34397012)

Obviously a country wouldn't sabotage their own space station. (Unless you want to get into this whole conspiracy theory thing where a government kills its own people in order to make people afraid and seize more power in the ensuing chaos.)

But terrorist organizations or countries that don't have anything on board the ISS may conceivably want to bring it down. The point of doing something like stuxnet, as opposed to simply shooting it with a missile, is that it's hard to find and hard to trace back to whoever did it. The only reason anyone would do this is so that it doesn't get the rest of the world pissed off AT THEM. Also, if you're really, really clever about it you might be able to make it look like a weird bug rather than a piece of malicious software, in which case no one would be pissed off at you anyway.

Re:Dont put Windows up there (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 3 years ago | (#34404120)

Duh, any orbital garbage collector could tell you it would be the VHE crowd trying to keep humans contained to Earth.

Hope their computers are fast enough... (1)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34396304)

After all, a 2.048 MHz [wikipedia.org] behemoth was barely enough [wikipedia.org] to land something on the moon.

Re:Hope their computers are fast enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34396830)

After all, a 2.048 MHz behemoth was barely enough to land something on the moon.

Why not call it a 2MiHz computer?

Re:Hope their computers are fast enough... (1)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 3 years ago | (#34397370)

Because it is not.

BTW - Welcome to /.

That's the HSIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34398544)

for shizzle

No need to RTFA... (1)

subk (551165) | more than 3 years ago | (#34400030)

...there's nothing there!

Even more non-descript than the ISS... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34400596)

A non-descript building...housing the largest indoor swimming pool in existence, next to an air base, and with spare/test satellite and rocket parts all over the back lot...

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