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Mars Failures: Bad luck or Bad Programs?

Hemos posted more than 11 years ago | from the what-makes-the-machine dept.

Space 389

HobbySpacer writes "One European mission is on its way to Mars and two US landers will soon launch. They face tough odds for success. Of 34 Mars missions since the start of the space age, 20 have failed. This article looks at why Mars is so hard. It reports, for example, that a former manager on the Mars Pathfinder project believes that "Software is the number one problem". He says that since the mid-70s "software hasnâ(TM)t gone anywhere. There isnâ(TM)t a project that gets their software done."" Or maybe it has to do with being an incredible distance, on an inhumane climate. Either or.

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I think it's the metric system (2, Funny)

xanie (446372) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149449)

You know, 1/10th of something rather than 1/4. Damn engineers can't figure out the conversion between metric and standard!

The Troll Police (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149483)

Textbook troll.

Re:The Troll Police (-1, Offtopic)

InvaderSkooge (615857) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149513)

So now "troll" applies to anyone who fails to be funny?

Re:The Troll Police (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149645)

If thats a Textbook Troll then you bought a cheapass textbook. SAMS Learn To Troll In 24hours: 1st Edition or some other peice of crap.

Either that, or you're an idiot newbie trying to sound like he knows what he's talking about.

Either way, you're an idiot. Leave the trolling and the troll busting upto the people who have been around Slashdot long enough to actually know what a troll is. I should know, I'm a top lawyer for a Fortune 500 company.

Re:I think it's the metric system (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149571)

novavon909@hotmail.com

this is a spam trap. if you have any spam. feel free to forward it.

Re:I think it's the metric system (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149631)

Metric is used for scientific things....
Imperial is used for real world things....

You wouldn't say 'move the space ship a furlong to the left', would you?

Re:I think it's the metric system (0, Flamebait)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149673)

Wrong. Metric is used by the modern world. Imperial is used by Dictator Georgies country.

Get with the F'ing program!

Tom

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149451)

son of a bitch

suck my off, niggers

It'll make me think twice (3, Insightful)

BlueTooth (102363) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149466)

Before complaining at the lack of manned missions to mars any time soon.

Re:It'll make me think twice (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149493)

BlueTooth?! What are you doing here, you were announced to be dying yesterday!

We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (3, Funny)

vasqzr (619165) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149469)

...or so the story goes. I'm sure we can make it to Mars with our current technology.

I think it's hard to get to Mars because it's far away and it it's in SPACE! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out! Well on second though....

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (0, Troll)

lethalwp (583503) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149527)

Probably not with microsoft

http://unix.rulez.org/~calver/pictures/what_real ly _happened_with_the_columbia.jpg

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (5, Insightful)

Niles_Stonne (105949) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149541)

I think that is part of the difficulty...

With 512 BYTES of ram you can literally look at the entire contents. You can be aware of every single bit on the system.

Now, where we have gigabytes of ram, and even more other storage it is simply impossible to sort through every bit. This errors roll in.

I'm not sure what to do about it, but I see why there is difficulty.

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149601)

same as the Volkswagen Beetle (old versions) is still deemed the worlds most reliable car, no water,engine management systems,injections,turbos,massive wiring looms air con,etc etc ,
so basic that the error rate is significantly reduced to a point that identifying and fixing errors are trivial without the need to plug a single computer in or sort through 2miles of cables looking for a single break

i digress technology makes life harder not easier

cheers

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149667)

How about we start by working out why we now have "Gigabytes of RAM"? Think about it; we navigated to the moon with 512b, why do we now "need" Gb's?

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149698)

Because we're attempting missions with actual scientific content, not just letting some flyboys play low-gravity golf to impress the Russians.

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (5, Interesting)

mcheu (646116) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149610)

Thing is, space exploration isn't done with *current* technology. The computing technology used in a lot of aerospace applications is 20-30 years old. There are a number of reasons for this, but the ones I've heard of are:

1. The projects are long-term, and have been in development for a lot of years. Especially when it comes to government projects. They can't just up and switch to the latest tech whenever it comes around, otherwise it will end up like DNF and never see the light of day.

2. The engineers don't trust the latest and greatest. The technology isn't considered mature enough. All the bugs have been worked out in the older tech, so it's more robust, the engineers are more familiar with it, and more often than not, manufacturers have shunk and simplified the designs significantly since introduction.

It's more likely that you'd find a 8086 processor in the space shuttle than a Pentium 4 unless someone brings a laptop aboard. It wasn't all that long ago that NASA put adds on websites and geek magazines appealing for old 8086 processors for spare parts. I haven't heard anything since, so either they found a supplier, or they're too busy piecing together the Columbia.

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149732)


It's nearly impossible to find space-rated, radiation-hardened components that are anywhere near 'cutting edge'. The smaller the process, the more likely the component will be damaged by radiation - that pretty much eliminates 'cutting edge' stuff and newly shrunk old stuff.

It's really a shame that manufacturer's can't easily produce space-rated components cheaply, and it's also a shame that the space-rated component market is not large enough to support that niche as a viable business.

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (3, Interesting)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149720)

Yeah but... The Apollo 11 LEM computer crashed several times [wikipedia.org] during the landing.

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (1)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149735)

Sure, but don't forget that those were manned missions. Perhaps that's what we need to think about with Mars...

Re:We landed on the moon with 512 bytes of RAM (2, Interesting)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149752)

How about this? We're launching fairly small, very complex probes, that aim to do a lot more than the moon missions in some respects...certainly the craft are responsible for accomplishing a lot more 'unsupervised'.

With the moon missions, there were manned craft, and so every line of code had to be checked and rechecked--and hundreds of guys were on the ground watching everything that happened, twenty-four seven, until the astronauts were safely back on the ground.

Now, windows for a Mars launch come much less frequently. There might be a temptation to rush some of the QA and just cross fingers. Speed of light delay means that NASA can't intervene in most situations--problems are resolved one way or another before anyone on the ground even hears about them.

Moon launch hardware had to last for a few days in space--stressful, busy, lengthy days, but a few days nonetheless. We expect Mars craft to spend months in hard vacuum and harder radiation, and then land successfully without human help, on a planet with higher gravity than the moon...

Just some thoughts. The parent is right--Mars missions are hard because it's far away, and you have to travel through space to get there.

sabatoge (2, Funny)

InvaderSkooge (615857) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149472)

I'm fairly certian it's sabatoge on the part of the Martians.

Re:sabatoge (1)

YU Nicks NE Way (129084) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149496)

No, it was clearly sabotage on the part of SCO. Their programmer deliberately added code to the Pathfinder source, disguising the fact that it was taken from the original English-system Unix codebase. The balance of the code was taken from the European-based Linux.

Re:sabatoge (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149567)

I don't think the Martians need any help - the bureaucrats at NASA are sabotaging it just fine.

That said, how did this get modded "insightful"? What, exactly, is the insight? Maybe there should be a "+/-1, TinFoilHat" mod.

Its a shame (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149475)


because software is one of the only things that could and should be theoretically perfect

maths (especially that based on 1 or 0 is either right or wrong it seems to be only when humans get involved that things go wrong and mistakes happen

Re:Its a shame (1)

p3d0 (42270) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149613)

Yep, programmers in 100 years will react with horrow when they discover how we do things today.

Re:Its a shame (1)

p3d0 (42270) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149648)

...and we all know there's nothing worse than to react with "horrow".

Re:Its a shame (2, Interesting)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149696)

Why wait 100 years? I'm ashamed of most programmers *TODAY*. Stupid three week IT majors with a background in ASP.NET or some shit...

Used to be comp.sci was about comp.sci not staying upto date with the latest code monkey script language.

There is still a reason why the majority of *real* work is coded in C. Its a simple language that gets things done.

The dot.com busta VB script kiddies [e.g. three week IT grads] come and go. True comp.sci'ers stick along better.

Tom

Chess is also a Formal System (2, Interesting)

Gerry Gleason (609985) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149661)

And it is finite as well, but I don't see anyone with a closed form solution to that either. Even with a very small, searchable code space for possible programs, it is not possible to completely characterize the program's behavior.

Theoretically, all programs have latent bugs, unless they are too simple to do much.

Re:Its a shame (2, Insightful)

OldAndSlow (528779) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149664)

Nonsense. Software is not math. Math is "for each program there exists (or could exist) a specification which makes the program correct." Not very useful.
Software is human beings communicating with each other in ambigous natural languages and then trying to convert what they think they understand into a hyper specific computer language that a program (ie compiler) will translate into machine code.
The hard part is trying to eliminate all the killer misunderstandings. One of the early Geminis came down several hundred miles from the planned spot because some programmer assumed that there were 24 hours in a day. Not in celestial navigation!
Software is hard to do right.

Re:Its a shame (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149745)

"Software is not math"

everything is math my friend, even you will one day be expressed as an equation

Software - The only thing right on the Shuttle (4, Interesting)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149746)

Funny. Of all of the things that went wrong mechanically with the shuttle, from enginees that had to be tweaked beyond what a Rice-Boy would consider safe, to a protective houseing made of glass, to strapping 2 solid fuel boosters just to jet the sucker off the ground, the software on the Space Shuttle worked well, and worked the first time.

Part of it was the fact they had absolute geniouses working on the problem. Think of it, they designed a system in the late 1970's, tested it on the ground, and had it successfully fly for 20 years without a major "oopsie". Or rather, if a major "Oopsie" happened, they had ways around, over, or through it. They spent YEARS developing the flight software for the Shuttle.

Software CAN be done right. It just has to be a priority.

manned mars mission (4, Funny)

lingqi (577227) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149477)

Of 34 Mars missions since the start of the space age, 20 have failed.

I really hope this explains why there isn't a manned mission. =)

Men are from Mars.. (3, Funny)

jkrise (535370) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149478)

That explains why it's so hard? :-)

Re:Men are from Mars.. (1, Funny)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149670)

What, do they refuse to ask for directions or something? ;)

Re:Men are from Mars.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149693)

Going from Mars to Venus is even harder. It's never been done successfully.

It's the Aliens. (1, Redundant)

eclectic4 (665330) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149479)

They don't want us there.

Re:It's the Aliens. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149622)

They don't even want us on the moon.

Martians! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149481)

Everyone knows it's really the martians destroying our probes to make sure we don't find out about them.

I disagree, Mr. Editor (3, Insightful)

rosewood (99925) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149482)

I am with NASA on this one (almost always a good idea to stick with NASA). From when I remember of fubar'd mars missions, its been screw ups by the programers.

Just as in the NFL when a receiver drops an easy pass and someone yells that he gets paid to catch passes like that, programers get PAID not to fuck things up.

Re:I disagree, Mr. Editor (-1, Flamebait)

Galahad (24997) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149523)

No, many programmers get paid to write in VB. That amounts to getting paid to fuck things up.

Re:I disagree, Mr. Editor (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149537)

Yes, software errors caused problems with the Mars landers etc, but hardware errors caused 2 space shuttles to blow-up. At least we software engineers are only killing robots.

Re:I disagree, Mr. Editor (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149617)

Programmers get paid to do their job to the best of their ability, just like any other employee.

When not even the best programmers can get it right it might be time to start thinking that there's a hard problem in there, docking pay isn't the way to fix it.

Re:I disagree, Mr. Editor (1)

TheViffer (128272) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149663)

its been screw ups by the programers

And I can clearly tell you are not one considering you can not even spell the profession correctly. It's programmers, two 'm's.

And your comparison between a receiver and a programmer is wrong. A receiver is gifted and talented and can catch the ball in many ways, in the gut, in the air, on there stomach (Antonio Freeman vs Minnesota on MNF) all this and defending off the defense. But at the end of the day it is still catching the ball.

As a Programmer, I can not just program different variants of "Hello World" all freaking day. Not to mention program on the same platform day after day. (In your wide receiver example it would be like having the WR catch the ball on a NFL football field one day, a soccer field the next, and maybe even during the "Running of the Bulls" or during a Hurricane).

Not to mention, the WR always knows what he is catching. A piece of pigskin. With crazied EEE out there who the heck knows what we are going to get dropped in our laps.

Programmers (4, Insightful)

Cujo (19106) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149687)

Yes, programmers have erred. To err is human, to allow errors to propagate into mission failures is a failure of systems engineering, and I think that is where the real blame lies. A lot of the problem is thatspacecraft systems engineers often have a very amateurish grasp of software, if any at all.

For example, on Mars Climate orbiter, a junior programmer failed to properly understand the requirements. However, systems failed to:

  1. Properly identify the thruster force data as a critical interface.
  2. Failed to demand proper, thorough and timely verification ON BOTH SIDES OF THE INTERFACE.
  3. Failed to make sure the requirements were properly understood by the implementers.
  4. Ignored or missed prima-facie evidence that the interface wasn't working (closely related to 1).

Re:I disagree, Mr. Editor (4, Funny)

Lord_Slepnir (585350) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149714)

When I can get paid $4 million a year just to show up to work every day for 4 hours, 6 months a year, get paid another $5 million just to say that I use XXX brand compilor (or reclining chair), get paid by a university to attend there just because they need a new star Perl Debugger (the last one graduated last year, and the backup got carpal tunnel), then I'll stop messing things up like that.

Re:I disagree, Mr. Editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149724)

programers get PAID not to fuck things up.

Shhhhh...the government have enough ideas already.

Oh come on! (1)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149484)

Martian aim is getteng more accurate by the hour, isn't it obvious!

Please stop denying it, the great Anthropoligist and Engineer Erich von DÃniken [daniken.com] has been writing about this for decades. Wake up and smell the Martians.

hehe

Re:Oh come on! Ooops! (0)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149506)

We could use this [slashdot.org] from the previous story, unless the Martian ADA has forcefield defeating technology . . .

Windows (-1, Funny)

Playboy3k (552242) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149497)

They must be running Windows?

Old news (0, Troll)

nick-less (307628) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149500)

He says that since the mid-70s "software hasnâ(TM)t gone anywhere.

as we didn't allready knew this...

Wrong Motivation (4, Funny)

emo boy (586277) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149503)

The motivation for achieving Mars is much less than the moon. The reason for this is because there was extreme speculation that the Moon was made of green cheese. Mars is already assumed to have red dust on it. For a society that gorges itself on Big Macs and Cheese Fries this is hardly a worthwhile goal. And as a programmer myself I understand the need to work on projects that will benefit the community as a whole, not on one that will invade a dirt planet.

Re:Wrong Motivation (1)

nearlygod (641860) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149599)

Since Mars is covered in red dust, perhaps we should move forward with plans to colonize it. That way we will be safe when the visitor's motherships arrive. It stopped Donavon, Diana & Lydia before. Damn lizard people.

Re:Wrong Motivation (1)

AndrewHowe (60826) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149669)

That red dust is paprika, and the Hungarians have already baggsied it.

The reason behind all the failures... (-1, Redundant)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149509)

The tri-breasted mutants are sabotaging the equipment to use as air filters in their cyber punk cities.

purchase land (1)

ionyka (584937) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149510)

Im waiting for the promotions to buy a square acre of land on Mars go up! I mean, doesnt everyone already own one on the Moon [moonshop.com] ? I think Mars would be a much better place to own land. Gotta luv us Americans, always wanting to make money on -anything- :)

Re:purchase land (1)

Voxol (32200) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149605)

think marsshop.com

The software motto... (4, Insightful)

Xentax (201517) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149511)

...is "garbage in, garbage out" right? One of the mottos anyway.

If you underestimate the resources you need to do software right, of course you'll have problems -- either getting it done on time, or getting the quality to the level it needs to be (or both).

That problem is hardly unique to the space programs. And of course, it would be a little tricky trying to upload a software patch to a hunk of solar-powered metal a few million miles away.

I wonder how much NASA et al. really tap the resources they should be tapping -- I mean, there ARE areas of industry where mission-critical or life-critical software has been developed and deployed for some time now. Maybe it's just a question of getting the right kind of experience in-house...

Xentax

Re:The software motto... (1)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149643)


Or, as is often the case, "Data In, Garbage Out."

And what the users want is "Garbage In, Data Out."

Had to do it... (1, Funny)

Rorgg (673851) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149512)

Oooh, stories like this make me SO ANGRY.

Re:Had to do it... (1)

emo boy (586277) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149538)

Ok enough with the Hulk references. We've all seen the trailer. :)

Re:Had to do it... (1, Funny)

MattCohn.com (555899) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149582)

It's not the Hulk, it's Marvin the Martion. Ooooh, mixups like those make me VERY angry!

BUSH = MANIPULATION (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149517)



Mr. Powell, appearing on Fox News, noted that the mobile biological laboratories found by American forces bore great resemblance to those he described to the United Nations in February. "I would put before you exhibit A, the mobile biological labs that we have found," he said. `Now, people are saying, well, are they truly mobile biological labs? Yes, they are."

So far, however, there has been no evidence that the labs were ever put into use in producing the critical materials for biological weapons.

Software not the problem... (2, Insightful)

Malc (1751) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149524)

... on the last two trips to Mars that failed. Communication and incompetence on Earth were the problem. Exactly how do scientists screw up and get the unit system wrong?

Re:Software not the problem... (1)

john_roth (595710) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149678)

on the last two trips to Mars that failed. Communication and incompetence on Earth were the problem. Exactly how do scientists screw up and get the unit system wrong?

But that was a software problem, and it wasn't the scientists, it was the project management. A real scientist would almost certainly have noticed that some of the constants didn't make sense in the context they were being used.

In any case, space missions have some real interesting problems, like hardware that's so out of date it isn't funny because there isn't more recent hardware that's certified for the environment.

And like "standard" ADA flight control software that's reputedly full of bugs that have never been squashed.

John Roth

An opportunity here... (5, Funny)

theophilus00 (469290) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149528)

âoeThe limiting factor in Mars sample return is mass,â he said. âoeDirect return [of samples] from Mars right now exceeds the cost envelope and performance envelope of the available launch vehicles and upper stages.â

The first samples returned should have mystical properties ascribed to them and then sold on EBay. This should generate enough revenue to substantially increase the size of the "cost envelope"...

cheers

(I got engaged last night) =)

Small Simple... Solid State (5, Interesting)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149532)

Make it simple. The original software used (like in the moonshots) was Very simple control loops... no OS, no overhead.. just a simple program doing a VERY simple job over and over. Read stick, fire retros as appropriate.
Also, solid state, however big and bulky, isn't susceptible to the radiation that many mega-tiny chips are... by writing (and testing) the software in the simplest manner, and building a VERY specific piece of hardware out of solid state components.. and lots of unit testing... you're more likely to get there.
For the same reason the 486 was the only space-rated intel processor for quite a long time (not sure if thats still true).

I'd rather go on "slower" simpler hardware that does a very specific job... and you can repair with a soldering iron.

Re:Small Simple... Solid State (1)

jungd (223367) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149590)

Recall that on the first manned moon landing, the software screwed up and the lander would have been lost if the pilot hadn't taken manual control at the last minute!

Re:Small Simple... Solid State (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149650)

Ummm...the pilot was always going to have manual control of the moon landing. The software erroneously gave him an abort signal, so if he'd followed its advice then Apollo 12 would have been the first manned landing.

Re:Small Simple... Solid State (1)

irving47 (73147) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149654)

That has some merit to it, but keep in mind, the rover that landed a few years ago had a LOT of off-the-shelf parts in it. I doubt NASA or its contractors are going to build 1970's-era hardware (less tiny chips) for a 2003 mission. Heck, they don't even do it to replace parts on the shuttle. They buy them from ebay and other warehouses of old parts.

Re:Small Simple... Solid State (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149725)

Well, simple logic like that has caused problems too. The reason one of the recent mars landers toasted was because it mistook the thump from launching the parachute to be making touchdown. With this knowledge, it decided it was safe to deactivate the landing thruster.

A more intricate, complex system may have provided the lander with the intellect to figure out that it was going to be grey paste on the red earth if it did that (as opposing what happens to humans who fall from the sky).

Re:Small Simple... Solid State (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149733)

as simple as

10 REM my Martian exploration program
20 GOTO MARS

Budget and motivation (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149533)

What we need is a bit of competition between nations. Let's face it, without Kennedy wanting to 'beat the Russians' to the moon, there would have been no Apollo programme. Nowadays we throw unmanned stuff around and expect it to perform flawlessly with (comparatively) little monetary backing and none of the incentives of older space programmes.

However just throwing money at the problem isn't going to solve it, I'd suggest throwing away the rulebook and starting over for unmanned systems, better craft, less of the multimillion dollar single units and more cheaper devices that can carry out multiple landings at once.

For once, it might be worth imagining a Beowolf cluster of those things - because with many cheaper devices, the mission would most likely have a modicum of success.

Methodolgies (2, Insightful)

barcodez (580516) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149536)

It's interesting that he blames the problems of software on external pressures such as management hassling of coders but there is no mention of project delivery methodology. I would be interested to know what methods they uses. Are they using continuous intergration techniques, unit testing, agile methodolgies, XP? These things in my experience are crucial to low bug software. Also who are they employing to write their software? Rocket scientists or coders. In my experience domain expertise counts for very little when it comes to writting rock solid code.

Re:Methodolgies (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149596)

Also who are they employing to write their software? Rocket scientists or coders. In my experience domain expertise counts for very little when it comes to writting rock solid code.

Hmmm... Rock solid code and solid rockets - not interchangeable.

Hell, I'd hate to see a coder build rockets. They'd all have NCC1701 written down the side, or be a mile long...

Re:Methodolgies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149616)

Agile development and XP are utterly unsuitable for this sort of environment.

Re:Methodolgies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149626)

good point.

I bet part of the problem that the old-style button-down methodologies are used.
They probably are still writing design docs and requirement specs in the strict waterfall way.

I just started on a gov't project myself and anytime I bring up unit testing and agile methodologies in front of the group I get these blank vacant looks.

Re:Methodolgies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149730)

I do hope they're writing design docs and requirement specs, because otherwise they're in big trouble. Agile development is completely useless for this sort of software development.

Re:Methodolgies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149761)

XP etc. is NOT against writing design docs and req specs.

The point is that doing things in the strict waterfall way - all the requirements first, all the design second, all the developing third and testing and deployment last, in that order - has proven not to work for any kind of complex software project yet this is the only model most of the management cares for.

Re:Methodolgies (2, Informative)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149699)

Hmmm. I think you'll find the methodologies of the commercial world count for nothing when it comes to space-craft. XP indeed......

http://www.fastcompany.com/online/06/writestuff. ht ml

That's what they do, and I'm glad I don't.

And as for domain expertise not counting for much, that may be true for some domains, but sure as hell is not for mine (medical informatics).

Mistakes (4, Interesting)

Restil (31903) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149555)

Of course, the stupid metric conversion problem only accounted for one of the failures, but it's indicitive of a larger problem. There's obviously a shortcoming in quality control and verification if such an obvious mistake could be overlooked. What less obvious problems are we missing all together? Most of the failures occured during the orbital entry phase, during which time they shut off the transmitter, and therefore don't have up to the second data on the reason for the failure. Sure, they likely wouldn't have much of an opportunity to save the mission, but they would have a good chance at figuring out what the problem actually was so it could be fixed the next time around. Instead, we're left to guess. Cost concerns are always mentioned as the reason, but how much have we "saved" really? An extra million $$ to keep the transmitter on would probably have paid for itself a long time ago.

-Restil

Sorting out the stages (2, Insightful)

henrygb (668225) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149565)

First, most of the launches go wrong, so they get improved. Second, the spacecraft hardware goes wrong, so that gets redesigned. Third, the software goes wrong, so more work is needed there.

It looks as if the testing and debugging starts at the begining and works through the mission. I suppose this will eventially work, but it seems to be an expensive way to do it.

almost /.dotted (2, Informative)

lethalwp (583503) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149566)

1st page

Why is Mars so hard?
by Jeff Foust
Monday, June 2, 2003

This June will see the beginning of the most ambitious exploration of the Red Planet in a quarter-century. If all goes well, three launch vehiclesâ"one Soyuz and two Deltaâ"will lift off this month, placing four spacecraft on trajectories that will bring them to Mars by this December and January. Those spacecraft include the first European Mars orbiter, Mars Express; Beagle 2, the British lander built with a mix of public and private funding; and NASAâ(TM)s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, perhaps the most advanced Mars spacecraft even built. They will be joined at Mars by Nozomi, a Japanese-built Mars mission launched in 1998 and forced to take the long road to Mars because of thruster problems.

This should be an exciting time for those interested in Mars exploration, and for scientists and activists alike, it is. If these missions are successful, they should offer new insights about what happened to the planetâ(TM)s water and the potential for past or even present life there: some of the most important questions in planetary science and astrobiology today.

The catch is, if these missions are successful. The history of robotic exploration of Mars, stretching back more than four decades, is littered with failed missions and dashed hopes. Some of these failures can be chalked up to the growing pains of early planetary exploration, when a wide variety of spacecraft of all types failed. Others, particularly the 1999 failures of NASAâ(TM)s Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) and Mars Polar Lander (MPL), are more indicative of management, programmatic, and other problems, rather than purely technical issues. Understanding these problems, and acting to correct them, are critical if current and future missions are to succeed in studying the Red Planet.
The star-crossed history of Martian exploration

Mars has been one of the most popular destinations for missions beyond the Earth. Since 1960 the United States and the former Soviet Union have launched 34 missions to Mars: 15 by the US and 19 by Russia and the former USSR. NASAâ(TM)s success rate is not too bad: nine of those 15 missions, including the Mars Global Surveyor and 2001 Mars Odyssey missions still in progress, can be considered successes. Russiaâ(TM)s luck has not been nearly as good: 14 of its 19 missions failed, and only oneâ"Zond 3â"can be considered a complete success; the remaining four are, at best, partial successes. Overall 20 of the 34 American and Russian Mars missions, or 59 percent, failed.
Four of the seven NASA Mars missions since Vikingâ"Mars Observer, MCO, MPL, and Deep Space 2â"have failed.

Digging into those statistics in greater detail shows some interestingâ"and troublingâ"trends. Many of the failed missions, particularly those launched in the 1960s, were lost because of launch vehicle failures, not because of any fault with the spacecraft itself. Many Russian spacecraft, from the earliest âoeMarsnikâ missions of 1960 to Mars 96, either failed to leave a parking orbit around the Earth or never made it into Earth orbit into the first place. However, in the last 30 years only one mission out of 16 attemptedâ"Mars 96â"was lost due to a launch vehicle malfunction. This can be most likely attributed to the maturity of launch vehicle development, including the use today of vehicles whose designs date back literally decades.

The problem with Mars exploration now appears to be with spacecraft themselves. Four of the seven NASA Mars missions flown since the twin Viking missionsâ"Mars Observer, MCO, MPL, and Deep Space 2â"have failed, all due to spacecraft problems of one manner or another. (MCO is a borderline case, since there was no technical problem with the spacecraft itself, but rather with how ground controllers operated it.) The only other NASA Mars missions to fail, Mariner 3 in 1964 and Mariner 8 in 1971, were each lost due to launch vehicle malfunctions. While getting spacecraft to Mars has become easier over time, making sure the spacecraft operate successfully has, perversely, gotten harder.

2nd page
Whatâ(TM)s wrong today?

Given these failures, whatâ(TM)s the problem with Mars missions today? Are the spacecraft too technically ambitious, trying to do more than the current state-of-the-art technology permit? Or, are missions being squeezed by outside forces, trying to do more with less money and time? Those issues were debated last September during a panel session at the annual Military and Aerospace Programmable Logic Device (MAPLD) conference. The conference, held at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of the Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland, devotes itself to technical analyses of electronics systems used on spacecraft and other systems, but this panel, titled âoeWhy Is Mars So Hard?â, took a broader view of why Mars exploration has proven to be so difficult.

Tony Spear, the project manager for Mars Pathfinder, believes that complex software is a major problem. âoeIt is just as hard to do Mars missions now as it was in the mid-70s,â he said. âoeIâ(TM)m a big believer that software hasnâ(TM)t gone anywhere. There isnâ(TM)t a project that gets their software done. Software is the number one problem.â

As an example, Spear recounted a near-catastrophe that took place with Mars Pathfinder. âoeWe struggled like crazy [with software] on Mars Pathfinder, and had the final software drop uploaded to the spacecraft a month before we landed,â he said. âoeAnd then, we almost forgot a patch [software bug fix]. We were under CNN surveillance, and we were wondering if the last patch got in!â
âoeIt is just as hard to do Mars missions now as it was in the mid-70s,â Spear said. âoeIâ(TM)m a big believer that software hasnâ(TM)t gone anywhere. Software is the number one problem.â

Spear also believes that a lack of progress developing new propulsion systems and materials also hurts Mars missions, making them try to do more with less usable mass to work with. Ed Euler of Lockheed Martin Astronautics, the company that has built several Mars missions, including MCO and MPL, agrees that mass is an issue. He notes that lander missions today use direct entry trajectories rather than going into Mars orbit first, like Viking, because of the mass penalties involved with the propulsion systems that would be required for orbit insertion. James Garvin, Mars program scientist at NASA headquarters, said that mass constraints will require more complicated subsystems for future sample return missions. âoeThe limiting factor in Mars sample return is mass,â he said. âoeDirect return [of samples] from Mars right now exceeds the cost envelope and performance envelope of the available launch vehicles and upper stages.â

While panelists generally agreed that technology poses a number of challenges for Mars missions, there was less agreement regarding how programmatic issues, such as cost, schedule, and management, may have contributed to recent failures. âoeThe failures in the 1990s had clear-cut engineering causes,â said Stamatios Krimigis, head of the Space Department at APL. âoeThese are linked to poor communications and management issues.â
Efforts to cut the mass of MPL and MCO, Euler said, âoetook up an enormous amount of resources during development that we could have used elsewhere solving some of these integration problems that eventually got us.â

âoeFaliures are simply due to human error, which is avoidable,â said Spear. âoeUnder intense pressure, failure by project teams to get all the necessary thousands of things right causes the failure. Something either falls through the cracks or thereâ(TM)s a breakdown in teamwork.â He believes these pressures often come from âoeharassmentâ by management, trying to keep costs down and projects on schedule while coping with escalating requirements. âoeMars 98 [MCO and MPL] was difficult from the word go: they were just unbelievably pressured by the fiscal constraints and they ran out of time.â

Euler, who worked on Mars 98, disagreed somewhat with Spearâ(TM)s assessment of the mission. âoeDuring the Mars 98 program we had no management harassment whatsoever from NASA or internally at Lockheed Martin,â he said. âoeWe never had any problems with management, and we never had requirements creep.â Euler instead blamed the problems with Mars 98 with NASAâ(TM)s decision to use less-powerful launch vehicles, forcing engineers to look for ways to cut mass. âoeThis took up an enormous amount of resources during development that we could have used elsewhere solving some of these integration problems that eventually got us.â

Euler, however, did end up agreeing with most of Spearâ(TM)s argument about how the failures occurred. âoeIt wasnâ(TM)t bad engineering, it wasnâ(TM)t unknown engineering, it was the errors that you and I make quite frequently, that someone else is always around to check you on,â he said. âoeVery good, solid engineers made mistakes, and we let those get through. It was the process that failed us, and the reason that happened is that we cut every corner to meet the cost challenges that we had.â

âoeWe certainly made sure that those processes will never let anything like that happen again, and we have a lot in place to make sure that never happens,â Euler said.

3rd page
Current mission prospects

Have the lessons described by the MAPLD panel been taken to heart by the latest generation of missions soon to head on their way to the Red Planet? Despite the reassurances of panel members and space agency officials alike, there are concerns that these missions could face some of the problems as their predecessors. MER faced a number of development issues, ranging from software to spacecraft mass, which, according to some media reports endangered plans to launch both rovers.

There are also concerns about the complexity of MER, according to a study of past and present NASA spacecraft reported in the May 26 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology. The Aerospace Corporation study assigned each mission a âoeComplexity Indexâ score between 0 and 1: 0 for the least-complex mission in the study group and 1 for the most complex. MER received a Complexity Index score of 0.81, putting it the same category of missions as NASAâ(TM)s flagship outer planetary missions Galileo and Cassini. The study then plotted these complexity scores versus the development time of the missions: 34 months in the case of MER.

When compared to other past NASA missions, this combination of complexity and development time is ominous. Successful complex missions tend to have much longer development periods, on the order of 80 to 90 months. Successful missions with MERâ(TM)s development time tended to be less complex, with Complexity Indices of 0.5 or less. MER finds itself in the bottom-right corner of the chart, near a group of failed missions (marked in red on the Aviation Week chart) with similar development times and complexity indices of roughly 0.6 to 0.75. As the Aviation Week article put it, MER âoesits in a sea of red dots of failure.â
When schedule is plotted against complexity, according to an Aerospace Corporation study, MER âoesits in a sea of red dots of failure.â

MERâ(TM)s prospects look more encouraging when looking at its budget. Using a very low development cost estimate of $480 million (excluding the cost of launch as well as building the second rover), MER falls in a group of largely successful missions with similar Complexity Indices and budgets. âoeMER is very fast, but we think NASA funded it adequately,â the Aerospace Corporationâ(TM)s David Bearden, who performed the study for NASA, concluded to Aviation Week.

Meanwhile, ESA breaks new ground with Mars Express. The spacecraft is not the most complex it has builtâ"that honor most likely goes to Rosettaâ"but it does represent a new approach that calls for building spacecraft âoefaster, smarter, and more cost-effective,â according to a recent ESA information note. ESA trimmed a third off the usual development time for major planetary missions, completing Mars Express in four years rather than six. It also built the spacecraft for 300 million euros, a significant decrease from previous ESA planetary missions: Rosetta has cost ESA an estimated 1 billion euros.

ESA officials credit the decreased schedule and cost of Mars Express on the reuse of existing hardware and instruments, as well as a smaller project team. ESA insists, though, that quality was never sacrificed. âoeAlthough we were under heavy pressure towards the end of the project, we did not drop any of the planned tests to save time,â said project manager Rudi Schmidt.

Nonetheless, the specter of past failures hangs over this latest generation of Mars missions. âoeAfter the two 1999 failures and the shuttle Columbia disaster, the agency cannot afford to fail,â Florida Today concluded in an editorial published June 1. âoeIt desperately needs to again show its prowess and improve its tarnished image.â The danger is that kind of pressure may end up doing more harm than good.

Jeff Foust (jeff@thespacereview.com) is the editor and publisher of The Space Review. He also operates the Spacetoday.net web site.

Re:almost a KARMA WHORE (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149679)

-1:redundant

They'll soon find out (1)

tarquin_fim_bim (649994) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149588)

That the South Sandwich Islands Space Agency has had a colony on Mars since the early 70's and have been attempting to disable any efforts by untrustworthy imperialist states to reach the planet with remarkable success.

Rocket Science is hard (5, Insightful)

fname (199759) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149589)

Well, there are a lot of reasons thing go wrong. Landing a spacecraft on a different planet is inherently difficult, and when you read about how MER-1 and MER-2 will land, it's amazing that they can work at all.

The flip side is that. After Mars Ovserver spectatularly failed in 1993 ("Martians"), NASA started to go with faster, cheaper, better. The idea was, instead of a single $1 billion mission every 5 years with with 90% chance of success, why not 2 $200 million missions every two years, with an 80% chance of success. Everyone loves this idea when it works (Pathfinder), but when a cheap spacecraft fails, the public doesn't care if it cost $10 million or $10 billion, all we know is that NASA is wasting money.

So, the answer is, NASA has hit some bad luck. But the idea of faster, cheaper, better is ultimately a cost-effective one, so if we can solve these software problems (I mean, can't someone independently design a landing simulator?), and NASA can get 80-90%, we'll be getting a lot more science for the dollar. But NASA-haters will always have some missions to point to as a "waste" of money, and try to cut funding as it's mismanaged; other space junkies will insst that anything under 100% is unacceptble, and costs should double to move from 80% to 100%. I don't which attitude is more damaging.

NASA has a "good" track record since Observer, unfortunately, the highest profile missions have generally failed. If MER-1, and MER-2 are both succesful, and SIRTF flies this summer, then everyone should get off of NASA unmanned program's back for a while.

Mars is hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6149630)

Wait till they try to land on Jupiter.

It's the martians silly. (1)

OS24Ever (245667) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149633)

They keep shooting our probes down. We should really look at is as a success that we got the ones there that we did.

I mean notice, they never land near the face or the pyramids!

(apologies to the author Robert Doherty for stealing the idea from his Area 51 series)

The root cause of all the failures... (1, Funny)

mustangsal66 (580843) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149642)

Marvin The Martian's Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator...

Tough assignment... (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149644)

Seriously. Space is tough, as the US has experienced with both Challenger and Columbia, and those should only reach orbit. Going even further away in space is tougher. So much can go wrong, and so little can be done to correct it. Certainly a few blunders like the feet-to-meter bug is huge, but they try. I'm not so sure any private corporation that had been asked to do the same would fare any better. They are pushing limits, where you fail and (hopefully) learn from your mistakes.

Which is why we should continue to try. Giving up, saying "space travel is just too costly and risky" is a big cop-out. If we could send people to a different stellar object (the moon) in 1969 with the equivalent of a pocket calculator but not now, what does that say of our technology? Or sociology? Sure you could take the narrow-minded approach and say "and what does that bring us? The ability to jump from rock to rock in our solar system?" If so, you might as well ask why people decided to go to the poles (just ice) or whatever. You're still missing the point.

Kjella

NASA Management Practices and Quality of Software (5, Insightful)

ChuckDivine (221595) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149647)

In my years at NASA Goddard I saw a dysfunctional management operate in ignorance of reality.

There was much praise of the employee who "went the extra mile", "put in long hours" and "served the customer" (that applied to contractor employees). There was also very little thought paid to the consequences of those practices.

What's the first thing to go when you're tired? It's not your body -- it's your mind. That's right -- if you're staying at work until you're feeling tired, you're making mistakes that need to be corrected later. The tireder you are, the more mistakes. The tireder you are, the less you can actually do.

I witnessed people who wore their exhaustion as a badge of honor. And, when they got into management, insist that others emulate their bad example. The result that I saw was people who should have been kept out of management becoming increasingly dominant. This was accentuated by the "faster, better, cheaper" ideology promulgated by former NASA administrator Goldin. This ideology was used to get rid of more experienced (and thus costly) people who were aware of the consequences of trying to squeeze more work out of fewer people.

It could take a long time for NASA to recover from this culture. The failure of projects in the past few years, the crash of Columbia could be turning points -- or they could be used by incompetents to justify even more dysfunctional behavior.

Time for a standard RT OS and tools? (2, Interesting)

Larthallor (623891) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149651)

Perhaps one of the reasons that the software isn't getting done on time is that much of the system is written from the ground up. Perhaps it would be better to design a common, open source spacecraft platform. So many of the basic tasks that spacecraft software must perform are essentially identical. The main differences for critical spacecraft systems would be the hardware. If a general purpose OS and spacecraft toolkit were designed, then the main things that would have to written from scratch for different missions would be drivers for the hardware and various configuration settings.

I'm not sure how suitable RT Linux would be from a technical/performance standpoint, but having a highly portable open source OS would give a flexibility and availablility that would make adoption much easier.

"inhumane(?!) climate" (1)

NoData (9132) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149653)

Yeah, Amnesty International's been ridin' those damn Martians for years about their climate. It's oppressive!

The ancient n-body system... (1, Troll)

Krapangor (533950) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149656)

..well it's the problem. At least part of the problem. The other part is that both engineers, physicists and computer scientists fail to acknowledge the advances in dynamical systems theory made in the last 50 years.
Anybody who has a clue in mathematics know that the above mentioned disciplines usually work with a style of mathematics which was state of art 80 years ago. Physicists refuse to write anything down in non-tensorial, coordinate free form, engineers usually don't even know what a manifold or a singularity is (wondering why they can't solve that damn non-linear equation) and CS guys normally work with highschool calculus/prob. theory with a little Fourier transforms from the engineers mixed in (though they won't ever touch the Laplace transform, dunno why; that's really weird).
I must admit that some HEP guys have a clue of mathematics (hey, sometimes they even use the DeRham-cohomology, that's senior year stuff !), but most others won't.

Well, and there their problem starts. The n-body problem is known to be chaotic with n>2. These problem can be handles but not the naive, ancient ways. You would have to use some non-linear control, Finser space stuff, nonlinear dynamical systems theory maybe even some resolution of singularities. You might want to throw even some stochastic control, but that's not critical.
The tools are backed by the works of Anosov, Arnol'd, Lobachevski, Thom, Isidori, Cheng, Smale, Picard and Zariski.
However, you must know and understand them to use them. And at this point CS freaks, engineers and physicists usually fail. They claim that "there was this crack" or "we confused metrics" but at the very core of the problem they didn't understood the problem and the tools to solve it.

And NASA the engineers early-retirement bandwagon fails to hire any mathematicians but only engineers, CS guys and physicists instead. Well, we all physicists, CS guys and engineers here, why should we let any mathematicians take over ?

And BOOM there goes another 163 million space probe.

I'm not surprised. (5, Interesting)

dnnrly (120163) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149671)

I've seen the code for some MAJOR blue chip companies and I really do wonder how these people stay in business with the rubbish that they put out. For example some of code drops from our clients don't even compile! The reason for all the crap is that it's very easy to cut corners without it being very obvious immediately. Typically, the first thing that gets stopped when things ar getting tight (either time or money) is documentation, quickly followed by testing. Next it's individual features, removed from the requirements 1 by 1.

Since software engineering is still a 'black art' as far as most traditional engineers and project managers are concerned, there isn't the real intuition/understanding of when things are starting to look bad. Without looking at code AND knowing something about it, you won't stand a chance 'intuiting' whether or not things are going well.

Writing software is an expensive business in both time and money. It's also a very young business without the same 'discipline of implementation' as other areas. Until the process matures and people realise that doing it on the cheap gives you cheap software, things aren't going to change and Mars probes are going to continue to produce craters.

And then there are the conspiracy theorists. (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149688)

Anyone who's been listening to Coast to Coast AM (first hosted by Art Bell, now hosted by George Noory) may have heard of Richard C. Hoagland, a fairly frequent guest of that show.

Hoagland thinks many of the Mars missions--including the failed European/Russian Mars 96 mission--were deliberately sabotaged by various space agency officials that want to prevent people from finding out that Mars used to not only have life, but intelligent life on that planet. You should read Hoagland's book The Monument of Mars--it's a conspiracy theorist's wet dream come true, to say the least (rolling eyes skyward--pun really intended).

It's really quite simple (5, Insightful)

foxtrot (14140) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149709)

Space Exploration isn't easy.

Look at the Space Shuttle. The space shuttle has never had a catastrophic computer failure-- but every line of code on that truck has survived review by a group of programmers. They've examined it, line by line, multiple times, in order to ensure that it's exactly right, because the cost of failure is 7 astronauts and a multimillion dollar orbiter.

The new Mars programs, however, are part of the streamlined "do it on the cheap" NASA. NASA put the Mars Rover down using mostly off-the-shelf and open-source software and a small amount of home-brew stuff. No matter how good open source software gets, it still hasn't undergone the level of review that the Space Shuttle code has seen. No matter how popular an off-the-shelf package is, it's not cost-effective for the manufacturer to give it that sort of treatment. NASA can't afford to do that level of code review because that costs them the ability to do some other program.

NASA is simply trying to do more with less in the unmanned launches, and the cost of that is we need to expect some failures. These failures are unfortunately very visible...

-JDF

Luck? (1)

MrFredBloggs (529276) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149717)

Well, there's no such thing as luck. So it's not that.

I don't get what's so hard ... (4, Funny)

SuperDuG (134989) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149739)

Place sensitive computerized equipment on top of massive explosive materials. Ignite materials causing massive controlled explosion forcing upward and mixed with the pull of gravity causing somewhere in the ballpark of 9 G's of force pulling down every part of the sensitive computerized equipment. Then when all is said in done with the explosion, have another explosion in a vacuum of the coldest and most uninhabitable spot in the entire universe.

Then after 3 months you are then shot into a planet and stopped by a parachute and then some air bags. The entire time literally thrown into the surface.

And all this with the safety and security, of the lowest bidder.

I dunno, you tell ME why these missions have a high failure rate. Could it be there is no humans on board therefore not as much care is taken to insure the safe delievery of these machines? Could it be the fact that they are designed not to go to mars, but to go to mars as cheaply as possible. Could it be that no one really has a whole lot of information so a lot about mars is (pun intended) hit or miss?

Software is unreliable by design (1)

Wonderkid (541329) | more than 11 years ago | (#6149755)

It is no wonder we cannot get probes to Mars if we have yet to perfect our less sophisticated devices here on Earth. I'm using the seriously over hyped Mac OSX and have an ever increasing list of bugs and flaws in it along with the various applications I run. And I understand that my friends using Windows have similar experiences. (I cannot speak for Linux.) Either way, I have concluded that the reason for the unreliability of most software (OS or app) is because engineers generally (not all!) lack the mind set to create well structured 'anything'. They are excellent problem solvers and good at the 'clever stuff', but are not (always) well organized or 'anal' in their appreciation of organisation and aesthetic. This subject is hard to explain, but maybe some of you out there get what I mean.

The solution would appear to be including industrial design and process concepts in the education of software engineers.

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