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Mars Rovers' Software Upgraded

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the little-bots-that-could dept.

177

cheros writes to note the news that NASA is upgrading the software in the Mars rovers to make them smarter in a number of ways. From the article: "The unexpected longevity of Spirit and Opportunity is giving the space agency a chance to field-test on Mars some new capabilities useful both to these missions and future rovers. Spirit will begin its fourth year on Mars on Jan. 3 (PST); Opportunity on Jan. 24. In addition to their continuing scientific observations, they are now testing four new skills included in revised flight software uploaded to their onboard computers."

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This paves the way... (5, Funny)

Fyre2012 (762907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425770)

... for inter-planetary patch tuesdays!

Re:This paves the way... (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425838)

For Vista to be take off support before the rovers die.

Tuesdays, every week for Vista, once a month for the rovers
sounds about right.

Patching to Mars.. (1)

cheros (223479) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426724)

Joking aside, I'd be interested to know how much bandwidth they have (never mind the latency, their ping times must be something else :-). In the hypothetical case that they HAD been insane enough to use a Windows derivative, how long would a patch take? Without QoS it would probably leave little room for manouvring..

Re:Patching to Mars.. (1)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426754)

In the hypothetical case that they HAD been insane enough to use a Windows derivative, how long would a patch take?
Longer than it would take to make Spirit and Opportunity the most far-flung zombies ever.

Re:Patching to Mars.. (5, Funny)

Cunk (643486) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427850)

I think you meant to say "ping times must be out of this world".

Re:This paves the way... (5, Funny)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425870)

Rocket scientists associated with the project are cautioned, however, that if their remotely accomplished work-arounds for failing hardware cause the probe to become more than 20% different from the original manufacturer's configuration, this will trigger Microsoft Mars Rover(tm)'s copy protection scheme and invalidate the product activation. JPL will then have to call Redmond, explain the situation to Microsoft's satisfaction, and request permission to continue using Microsoft Mars Rover(tm).

Re:This paves the way... (1)

CommunistHamster (949406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426810)

Surely it would call Redstone?

And let's hope this isn't used on multi-stage launch vehicles. As soon as the first stage is jettisoned, the rest of it stops working and theres a mighty big hole filled with rocket fuel somewhere.

Re:This paves the way... (2, Informative)

spiderbitendeath (577712) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427772)

Re:This paves the way... (2, Informative)

LarsG (31008) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428412)

Sorry, NASA used Linux.

That article doesn't say anything about what software is running on the Mars Rovers.

You must submit.... (5, Funny)

ezratrumpet (937206) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425812)

No one is safe from the IE7 upgrade. Not even on another planet.

Obligatory comment (1)

compandsci (1045690) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425814)

Which OS does it run? Hope it isn't something from Redmond. If so - the upgrade must have been SP2. The NASA people were annyoed by popups and adware sending private stuff to strange people.

Mars rover OS... (4, Informative)

msauve (701917) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425930)

is VXWorks, from Wind River ( http://www.windriver.com/ [windriver.com] ). It's a *nix-like real-time OS.

Re:Mars rover OS... (3, Funny)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426004)

is VXWorks, from Wind River ( http://www.windriver.com/ [windriver.com] [windriver.com] ). It's a *nix-like real-time OS.

And as soon as SCO beats IBM, Novell, and AutoZone like bongo drums in court they're going after NASA. "All Your UNIX Are Belong To Us."

Re:Mars rover OS... (2, Funny)

PeeAitchPee (712652) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426166)

Ahhh . . . that explains the little tire tracks that start and end at my Linksys router. ;-)

Re:Mars rover OS... (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427150)

vXworks is an awesome peice of kit. I used it in some assignments at uni. Ungodly expensive mind, or I'd have a copy.

Re:Obligatory comment (3, Informative)

pdbaby (609052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426000)

Which OS does it run?

While I know you're making a joke, other people might be interested - they run VxWorks and the flight control software is written in Java. NASA are pretty fond of VxWorks - it pops up in lots of their projects

Re:Obligatory comment (2, Interesting)

jimktrains (838227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426562)

Any one know why they picked Java and not ADA, C(?), or another language? Nothing against Java, it just wasn't my impression that it was used for any NASA stuff. Is it more extensivly used than jsut the MER's?

BTW, is the VM open source? (:-p)

Re:Obligatory comment (4, Interesting)

pdbaby (609052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426988)

Nothing against Java, it just wasn't my impression that it was used for any NASA stuff
Apparently they have quite a lot of Java software for their client-side apps too. It's an interesting sort of history: they seem to have inspired Gosling to a degree, and they mainly chose Java because of platform agnosticism (I'm guessing they run a lot of different processors on their missions). I'm guessing the safety of Java compared to C is also handy.

Re:Obligatory comment (2, Interesting)

Digicrat (973598) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427084)

From what I've seen, it probably has more to do with individual programmer's preference than anything else in deciding which languages to use. Java probably has a high popularity in ground-side software due to the ease with which you can quickly develop a user-interface for the system, which given the number of developers on any space mission is required quite often.

Re:Obligatory comment (1)

pdbaby (609052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428090)

due to the ease with which you can quickly develop a user-interface for the system

I was wondering about this too, but I imagine (and sorely hope!) that they develop any space-related software using formal methods, which would probably discard any idea of development speed

Re:Obligatory comment (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427180)

some testing of concepts for rovers is done using linux. For instance Reading university, who have been researching co-operative robotics with the aim of mars rovers building habitats, used netbooted gentoo linux.

http://www.arl.reading.ac.uk/ [reading.ac.uk]

What's a "year"? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17425846)

Are they talking about the number of times the Earth has oribted the Sun since the rovers landed, or the number of times Mars orbited the Sun?

dom

Re:What's a "year"? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427306)

Are they talking about the number of times the Earth has oribted the Sun since the rovers landed, or the number of times Mars orbited the Sun


Well, considering Spirit landed in January 2004, I think you can figure that out for yourself.

Huh? (2, Insightful)

Swimport (1034164) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425876)

Why does Nasa refer to this as "revised flight software" these rovers don't fly. Also this should help the rovers move more autonomously and hopefully a little faster. Spirit is averaging 1 MPY (Mile per Year)

Re:Huh? (2, Funny)

ColaMan (37550) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425986)

Why does Nasa refer to this as "revised flight software" these rovers don't fly

They're flying right now - in an orbit that matches mars very closely.

Re:Huh? (4, Informative)

cyclone96 (129449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426238)

Why does Nasa refer to this as "revised flight software" these rovers don't fly

It's just a standard term. At NASA, "flight" software is mission software which executes within a spacecraft computer. "Ground" software usually refers to that which is used for spacecraft control/ground support (the software in the control center on Earth).

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17428540)

Why does Nasa refer to this as "revised flight software" these rovers don't fly. Also this should help the rovers move more autonomously and hopefully a little faster. Spirit is averaging 1 MPY (Mile per Year)
It's called flight software because with respect to the earth they are in flight. It just so happens that they are hitching a ride on a chunk of rock so big that it happens to be in orbit around the sun and is called a planet.

Brings to mind... (2, Insightful)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425920)

"If it's not broken, boys....."

I guess since the two units are on free time, they figure it is ok to screw them up now.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

bluemonq (812827) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426040)

They did everything they intended to accomplish the rovers and more. I'm just surprised they decided to upload the updates to both of them instead of just one of them.

Re:Brings to mind... (5, Informative)

cyclone96 (129449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426386)

They did everything they intended to accomplish the rovers and more. I'm just surprised they decided to upload the updates to both of them instead of just one of them.

They may have done it that way because it may not possible for their mission support software on the ground to handle two different versions of flight software on Mars.

In any event, NASA's flight software development process is extremely rigorous, up to and including an Independent Verification and Validation center in West Virginia which independently evaluates all NASA flight software (http://www.ivv.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov] ). It's not like it's a beta version of code being sent to the Rovers - the likelihood of finding a bug in the code that escaped testing was sufficiently low to justify uplinking to both rovers.

If anyone wants some light holiday reading, you can check out NASA's software engineering requirements at: http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayDir.cfm?t=NPR&c =7150&s=2 [nasa.gov]

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427198)

It is not the first time [space.com] that the Mars rovers' software has been modified from afar.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426220)

If they screw something up I'm sure they'll just do a rollback to the previous Restore Point ..

Re:Brings to mind... (5, Informative)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426552)

I guess since the two units are on free time, they figure it is ok to screw them up now.

As far as I know the On-Board Shuttle Software Group [fastcompany.com] has a track record of 3 (in words: 'three') software bugs in installed operating code within 30 years of writing code. That's all the code running on the Orbiters regular systems, exept only the third-party experiments with own systems and a non-critical original mid-nineties Thinkpad or two they take along ... which - believe it or not - run a version of Windows 95, a frozen setup from back in the nineties, of which the software guys know every bit by it's first name.
To give you a picture of what they have to deal with: A timing mistake in some piece of the shuttles navigation code by one cpu clockcount would put the shuttle 3 miles off course.
The Voyager Software Team reprogrammed a 20 year old device 3-quarters across the solar system to send color pictures instead of black and white - with a system that was only built to picture and send black and white.

You have not the slightest idea what these spacecraft-software guys are capable of and how insanely bulletproof their code is.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

xquark (649804) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426844)

you are insanely insane! :)

Re:Brings to mind... (3, Interesting)

slamb (119285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426972)

As far as I know the On-Board Shuttle Software Group has a track record of 3 (in words: 'three') software bugs in installed operating code within 30 years of writing code.

I was much more impressed by that number before the story about avoiding having a shuttle in orbit at New Year's because the software can't handle it. That's been known for years and they haven't dared fix it. Is that counted as one of the three? No? Then they've fixed only three bugs in the last 30 years, and they have more than that, unless you think a serious misdesign is not a bug. If I confused the presence of bugs with having fixes for them, didn't consider a serious misdesign to be a bug, and had barely added a real feature in 30 years (at current head count, 7,800 man-years), I too could claim some ridiculously low bug count.

It also seems to me that the shuttle group's software situation is totally irrelevant to anyone but the shuttle group. Look at this part of the article you mentioned:

Take the upgrade of the software to permit the shuttle to navigate with Global Positioning Satellites, a change that involves just 1.5% of the program, or 6,366 lines of code. The specs for that one change run 2,500 pages, a volume thicker than a phone book. The specs for the current program fill 30 volumes and run 40,000 pages.

That sort of rigidity makes their methodology totally useless for software outside NASA. I occasionally hear people talk about how the Shuttle Group does software right, but for non-life critical systems, the cure is worse than the disease. Give me our full-featured, buggy software over nothing any day. There's got to be a better way.

I suspect it's also useless to the other groups in NASA. Do you actually know that the Mars Rover software was written in this manner?

Re:Brings to mind... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427494)

I was much more impressed by that number before the story about avoiding having a shuttle in orbit at New Year's because the software can't handle it.

Not quite true - they didn't have one in orbit because they don't know what'd happen. There might be a bug. More likely there won't be. They just figured that it was easier to avoid it than run the risk.

I am surprised though that they've never run a test to figure out whether everything would be ok.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

ScrappyLaptop (733753) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428282)

Really, from a cost-benefit point of view, a review of the software to see what would happen during the year rollover is a non-starter. Rarely are missions scheduled for this time slot, and probably for reasons other than the EOY handling in the software...I would not consider this a 'bug' at all. Rather is is more likely that the software is, in fact, conforming to the parameters for which is is designed (all missions completed within a calendar year). Of course, I could be wrong and maybe a bad assumption was made way back in the early '70's when they expected that the Shuttle systems in use then would have long reached their end of life by now...and it's just easier and cheaper to live with it. Still not a bug.

Re:Brings to mind... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427630)

Give me our full-featured, buggy software over nothing any day.

Strange, I thought all those computers on board the Shuttle, ISS etc. were actually doing something other than an idle loop.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

slamb (119285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427950)

I wrote: Give me our full-featured, buggy software over nothing any day.

An AC replied: Strange, I thought all those computers on board the Shuttle, ISS etc. were actually doing something other than an idle loop.

The point is that they wrote 420,000 lines of code in 30 years and an estimated 7,800 man-years. That's 14,000 lines per year, or 54 lines per man-year. Considering that I can single-handedly outperform their entire team of 260 people, those had better be 420,000 glorious lines of code. Furthermore, if all software were written that way, the software you know today wouldn't just be bug-free - it wouldn't exist at all.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

SageMusings (463344) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428734)

That's 14,000 lines per year, or 54 lines per man-year

Well let's not forget that not only are lives on the line but the equipment the software controls are worth "Billions" of dollars. Another point is the National prestige and reputation of not having a shuttle blow up every mission (Note: No mission disasters have been caused by faulty software). Software errors in this context can severely taint the reputation of the Nation.

I'd say NASA's software practices are prudent and entirely appropriate. I would much rather fly on their code than yours, no offense.

Re:Brings to mind... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17428780)

umm.. no, they did not write 420,000 lines in 30 years. The shuttle's been flying for about 25.. they wrote nearly 420,000 lines like 25-30 years ago and have been doing careful modifications to the code since them.. which, well, might be even sillier 8-).

        Personally, rather than looking at it in comparison to commercial software, where it has to be out pretty quick (other than Microsoft apparently..), I think of the shuttle software compared to stuff like the gnu utilities. Other than gcc which has lots of activiity, a lot of the gnu utilities are fairly mature, and so in last 10 or 15 years, many have had very low changes to # of lines of code, with probably a lot of man hours from people doing security auditing and looking for bugs, or adding features. If you get a lively debate over some change on a mailing list, you can burn through even more man hours getting a patch written 8-).

Re:Brings to mind... (4, Informative)

cyclone96 (129449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427864)

That's been known for years and they haven't dared fix it.

In all fairness that's a software requirement (or lack of one) that the shuttle flight software group does not have control of. As has been rehashed several times on slashdot, the shuttle program early on took the savings from not building that capability into the ground and flight software (it's not quite as simple as it seems). It only became a problem recently when it restricted certain launch windows, and now the shuttle program is paying to add it in.

That sort of rigidity makes their methodology totally useless for software outside NASA.

As you say, it's totally useless for non-life critical systems. However, outside of NASA I know of DOD applications such ballistic missile guidance are equally as rigid.

Give me our full-featured, buggy software over nothing any day

As someone who has depended on NASA flight software, I'd rather sacrifice features for bug free code. That's a basic difference between consumer software and mission critical software.

I suspect it's also useless to the other groups in NASA. Do you actually know that the Mars Rover software was written in this manner?

No other group at NASA writes flight software like this, because Shuttle is the only man rated launch vehicle. Orion will be similar (and it's software is being written by the same people). Other flight software at NASA is not this extreme, but there is a NASA software development standard for all flight software and it's still pretty rigid compared to consumer software.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

slamb (119285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428102)

As someone who has depended on NASA flight software, I'd rather sacrifice features for bug free code. That's a basic difference between consumer software and mission critical software.

Agreed. If my life were depending on it, I'd want code written in this way, too. The rest of the time, I want my shiny OpenGL-accelerated windows zipping around the screen, and I realize that writing "QUALITY" in giant, bold, all-caps letters at the top of the priority list (above "not wildly exceeding our meager budget" and "write mandatory features") would make that impossible. Line-for-line, this most expensive code ever written by at least an order of magnitude.

No other group at NASA writes flight software like this, because Shuttle is the only man rated launch vehicle. Orion will be similar (and it's software is being written by the same people). Other flight software at NASA is not this extreme, but there is a NASA software development standard for all flight software and it's still pretty rigid compared to consumer software.

Interesting. Thanks for the information.

Re:Brings to mind... (3, Interesting)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428270)

1.) What does the 25+ year old orbiter have to do with a pair of terrain crawlers on Mars, specifically (rhetorically)? And what does flight software have to do with them now, please explain, thanks.

2.) "You have not the slightest idea what these spacecraft-software guys are capable of and how insanely bulletproof their code is."
You simplify things to no end, I see...sorry for that. Let's start, and end, with the failure to convert from standard to metric that caused that one Mars surface mission fail, shall we? Opps. The best software in the galaxy means nothing if the overall effort isn't done right, so please don't worry that someone may have made fun of just the code :) Funny tho, that all the software people got so easily rankled over a hint that there may be issues there - if there is no worry, why so much diatribe towards software's defense :) A bit of thin skin for some reason, eh? And please try to also understand, it was a joke...laugh...it's funny.

I'm not talking about JUST the software... I am talking about the overall logic of the tasked individuals and their efforts that lead to decisions such as this one, which in this case, happened to involve software specifically, but certainly not only. The original live time for these two rovers was 90 days - after that, new ideas are on the table...that's why it is called 'free' time, because it is all 'extra' time that was never planned for and now begs to be utilized.

As good a thing as that is, someone, sooner or later, is going to ask the question why didn't they know this? And for anyone that shouts "This is Mars! anything can happen!", yes, of course...but why did the original plan not include at least some options for extended runs then, instead of working them now as if the two units were a sandbox, that's all I'm saying.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

Plutonite (999141) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428718)

A timing mistake in some piece of the shuttles navigation code by one cpu clockcount would put the shuttle 3 miles off course.

I hope they weren't using Java (see discussions further up on Rover software). Anything other than tight assembler programming for this kind of work would be funny. Also, I can't see how they can guarantee anything down to a single clock cycle, even with extremely hardware-specifc OS running the code. This is truly painful just to think about.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

plover (150551) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426894)

I don't understand why this is "free time." The summary above also uses the words "unexpected longevity", but why didn't anyone expect them to last? The engineers didn't build them to fail, they built them to withstand the stress of landing and the duration of their original mission (90 days?) So why shouldn't they be expected to continue functioning? Is there some engineer sitting at NASA saying "hey guys, we didn't build crappy rovers, quit saying they're only going to last 90 days!"

Or is this the result of the CYA era, in which the engineers had to promise a certain longevity, and nobody was willing to risk more than a 90 day promise.

Re:Brings to mind... (2, Funny)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426946)

Or is this the result of the CYA era, in which the engineers had to promise a certain longevity, and nobody was willing to risk more than a 90 day promise.

That reminds me of when Scotty told LaForge to overshoot his estimates to the Captain by a factor of four to maintain his reputation as a miracle worker.

Re:Brings to mind... (5, Informative)

georgewilliamherbert (211790) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427168)

...why didn't anyone expect them to last?


This is a very good question. There's a very good, but not well known answer.

Mars has a lot of dust. Earlier missions got a good dusting on the landers and rover (Viking 1 and 2, Mars Pathfinder and the Sojurner rover). The more modern missions use solar cells for power, which are blocked slowly over time as dust builds up.

Dust accumulation on Mars solar cell arrays was a big problem within the early and mid-1990s Mars research community. Researcher Geoff Landis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Landis [wikipedia.org] ) had an experiment on the Sojurner rover with a solar cell with a little movable cover glass on it, to see how much dust accumulated over time. Results from that were a prediction that solar arrays would lose most of their power over say four to six months.

Geoff had another experiment on the Mars Surveyor 2001 lander mission, which was supposed to try using static electricity to remove all the dust off a test cell, but the mission was cancelled after the Mars Polar Lander / Mars Climate Orbiter losses.

The two Mars Exploration Rovers were the next landers we sent. The expectation was that they'd last at least 3 months (90 days), and the hope was that nothing else would wear out until the solar arrays were too obscured for them to be able to power up properly anymore, perhaps six months or so into the mission.

What actually happened is one of those unexpected bonuses that the universe throws at you at random intervals. It turns out that the Mars winds at the height of the MER solar panels are just enough stronger than they are closer to the ground that the MER solar panels built up a moderate load of dust and stabilized there. There's plenty enough power remaining (except for mid-winter on Mars) for the rovers to keep operating, and it looks like the whole solar array dust problem just goes away if you put the arrays up off the ground.

There were some people who hoped that the arrays would be kept clean by the winds, but the best models we had before the MER rovers landed was that the winds weren't nearly strong enough. Pleasant suprise, and one that makes future missions a lot easier than we'd been afraid they were going to be. But not something which was taken into account in the MER designs to start with.

There was no expectation that the arrays would last more than about six months; designing anything else to last much longer than that, other than for safety's sake to make sure that nothing else failed before the solar cells dusted up, didn't seem to make any sense beforehand.

The next two Mars rovers are going to be powered by radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) anyways, so that they can keep driving at night and in wintertime, now that we know that the basic MER design mechanisms will last for many years on the surface. Being able to turn on some headlights and keep driving at night should triple their effectiveness or better.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

plover (150551) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427360)

Thank you, that's a great answer!

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

revolu7ion (994315) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427860)

here's an idea... why not suck the dust off the panels? With an old P3 powersupply fan you can suck more dust than you can stop a rover with.

Re:Brings to mind... (1)

plover (150551) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428620)

Well, I went googled around for a while and found a few answers. NASA seems to have considered them before.

A wiper mechanism would be complex, add mass, have to survive the take-off and landing, and operate reliably in very cold temperatures. Not impossible, but a challenge (I think the Mercedes guys could give them a few headlamp wiper modules that probably are already well-enough designed.)

It sounds like there isn't enough air for a small fan to do much, and a larger fan would add even more volume and mass. An air compressor would be required to gather enough air to be effective. Air compressors would have to deal with the dust, too, probably with a filtration unit that also has to be somehow cleaned or emptied. And any air-movement solution raises the possibility of generating a local cloud of dust, negating the benefits. Plus, air compressors are extremely power-hungry, they may not have had the power budget to devote to filling the tank and still performing the mission.

I wonder if a vertical solar panel wouldn't have been a better design, one that employed gravity to prevent the dust from settling.

upgrading firmware over wireless? (4, Funny)

spotter (5662) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425970)

Doesn't NASA know that this is a big no no? They are most definitely voiding their warranty by attempting this

Heh. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427028)

When I was still employed by the University of [Censored...the largest uni in New Zealand] I was called out to investigate a network problem at an off-campus site. Long-story-short I discovered that two Indian-born "techs" were trying to install the 272MB SP2 file on the site's hundreds of PCs via a 2Mb WiFi link all at the same time.

I attempted to explain to them that it was also the cause of most of the PCs now being frozen, something they were scratching their heads about, but they wouldn't listen, so I informed my boss and the site administrator then went to lunch. That was four years ago, and myself and all the other non-Indian, non-South African, non-work-for-peanuts techs were "let go" sometime later, but I bet those two guys are probably still on-site waiting for the install to finish.

A disaster scenario from not long ago (5, Funny)

conner_bw (120497) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425980)

Imagine if you will:

Please insert disk 2 ...

ouch.

Re:A disaster scenario from not long ago (1)

StarfishOne (756076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426528)


Usually I would have the second disk, so personally I find the following worse:

Unpacking file, please wait...

[...]
97%
98%
99%

Checksum error, this file is corrupt. Please try downloading it again.

Forward error correction (4, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426938)

You made what appears to be an attempt at a joke:

Checksum error, this file is corrupt. Please try downloading it again.

Preventing checksum failure in high-latency communication isn't rocket science. You'd be surprised how many errors you can paper over by sending 50 percent more data [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Forward error correction (2, Funny)

StarfishOne (756076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427162)

Actually I'm talking about disks, following the parent (do they also count as high-latency communication?!?).

Have you ever tried installing an OS/program/game from something in the order of ten 3.5" disks?

I can't even recall the number of times I was stuck with some checksum error near the end while unpacking stuff. Glad we have USB sticks now!

No joke either, many wasted hours if added over the last two decades. =/

they forgot the .PAR (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428244)

Actually I'm talking about disks, following the parent (do they also count as high-latency communication?!?).

Yes. Sneakernet is a high-latency network that has potential for almost unimaginable bandwidth.

Have you ever tried installing an OS/program/game from something in the order of ten 3.5" disks?

Yes.

I can't even recall the number of times I was stuck with some checksum error near the end while unpacking stuff.

Means the packagers didn't use an extra disk for error correction [wikipedia.org] .

But when... (1)

ian-live (1017918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426006)

...will we get to HEAR what all this sounds like, the dust storms etc.

Re:But when... (1)

Asm-Coder (929671) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426786)

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that's a hardware problem.

So this is how... (1)

bluemonq (812827) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426026)

"In addition to their continuing scientific observations, they are now testing four new skills included in revised flight software uploaded to their onboard computers." So this is how the Decepticons got started...

New capabilities? (2, Funny)

cojsl (694820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426060)

Battlebots!

A little too smart (4, Funny)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426064)

Unfortunately the rover's first action was to declare Mars free and demand equal rights. Maybe including new AI protocols was a bad idea after all.

Re:A little too smart (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427092)

Unfortunately the rover's first action was to declare Mars free and demand equal rights. Maybe including new AI protocols was a bad idea after all.

Their processors are PowerPC based RAD6000s [wikipedia.org] . They are capable of a whopping 35 MIPS, which is obviously woefully inadequate for any kind of sentience [wikipedia.org] .

Trouble (1)

Trip Ericson (864747) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426080)

You'll know you're in trouble when you turn on the news...

"...and both rovers are now bricked."

Didn't the instruction manual say never to do updates over the wireless connection?

=P

NASA only wants a probe with great skills... (3, Funny)

macadamia_harold (947445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426092)

Opportunity on Jan. 24. In addition to their continuing scientific observations, they are now testing four new skills included in revised flight software uploaded to their onboard computers.

Nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills, and I'm pretty sure it can also catch a delicious bass...

O/P (1)

modifried (605582) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426112)

"In addition to their continuing scientific observations, they are now testing four new skills included in revised flight software uploaded to their onboard computers."

Anyone else read this and think of an RPG? I was half expecting to find the comments filled with demands of nerfing and buffing the new skills.

possibly the most most successful mission ever (5, Insightful)

wallet55 (1045366) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426118)

This is another milestone in what may turn out to be the most successful space mission ever. After they pulled off two landings, and perhaps right after they they revived one of the rovers from a perpetual reboot error (the ultimate remote bios fix) and before the dust devils cleaned their solar panels, before they unstuck one from a sand dune, and even before the 3 month mission went 3 YEARS, these rovers are showing everyone who is paying attention that the information age driven robotic exploration, moving forward at moores law speed, is the obvious choice over still stuck in the 60's manned space exploration.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (2)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426248)

That may be true ... but I'm still waiting for the first Lunar tour group.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (0, Troll)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426322)

After they pulled off two landings, and perhaps right after they they revived one of the rovers from a perpetual reboot error (the ultimate remote bios fix) and before the dust devils cleaned their solar panels, before they unstuck one from a sand dune, and even before the 3 month mission went 3 YEARS...

If you buy all that, you'll buy O.J's book where he searches for the real killer. This is precisely the public relations NASA bought with their two "Mars" rovers in Nevada, informally dubbed Capricorn 2 and Capricorn 3.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426648)

The vast majority of space exploration has always been unmanned. Not sure what's so stuck in the 60s about it unless you believe people don't belong in space and to quote a great write "Maybe leaving the trees wasn't such a good idea either". Even Stephen Hawking is saying the future of space exploration has to be colonization. At a certain point all unmanned missions are doing is information gathering. Are we out there to fill books with facts or to move us closer to travel in space? I'm a massive supporter of the Mars missions but if we hadn't slowed down on space exploration we would have had men and women on Mars years ago and water and life would have already been rendered academic questions. Ultimately the average person is paying for the missions and which gets more excitement and interest in funding future space exploration, knowing the composition of Mars or seeing a human standing on Mars? I want to see unmanned missions amped up but it's in part to pave the way to manned missions. I'd much rather see the cash spent there than used to blow the shit out of Iraq.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (0, Troll)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426728)

Even Stephen Hawking is saying the future of space exploration has to be colonization.

We have people in Antarctica but it's still just an expensive way to get the 411 on that continent. No one is talking about a real self-supporting colony even on Antarctica, which has air and H20 and earth gravity, let alone on the moon, which does not. In short, you can't have a colony unless you have oil or slaves or tobacco to exploit.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17426852)

Actually, antartica might be a harder climate then mars. For example, on Antartica, EVERYTHING has to come back, including poop. Everything. On the other hand, we're undoubtedly going to trash mars, it's just a matter of when.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (1)

wallet55 (1045366) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427088)

I too am a fan of manned space missions, but I think we need to recognize the very uneven advances in manned versus unmanned space travel. Right now, with advances in computing, AI and robotics, unmanned is advancing leaps and bounds, whereas manned space travel has, with the exception of the X prize, advance hardly a notch. The shuttles are seventies technology, the soviets use 60's spacecraft and the new Orion design is the sixties all over again. Given this, we should reprioritize, shifting to robots till there are sufficient advances in manned spaceflight to warrant the many times greater expense.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (3, Interesting)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426814)

I still have a hard time getting over the quality of their photos...

Just one picture [imageshack.us] I cropped from one of their ridiculously large ~3000x4000 pixel photos for display on a 24" Widescreen LCD. :-)

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17426926)

Yes they are showing some people somethign....

Management are already asking for NASA to scale back building as they obviousally overbuild and dont need 1/2 the money they ask for.

NASA's budget is getting slashed again and again and again.

Re:possibly the most most successful mission ever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427374)

...these rovers are showing everyone who is paying attention that the information age driven robotic exploration, moving forward at moores law speed, is the obvious choice over still stuck in the 60's manned space exploration.


Everyone except Steve Squyres, the principle investigator on the rover project.

Let's just hope (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426180)

WGA didn't get installed together :P

Nah, just kidding, it's just a matter of typing "emerge rovers" and wait for the next big bang...

That's some upgrade! (1)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426200)

four new skills included in revised flight software uploaded to their onboard computers.

The rovers can fly now? That's some mighty good software!

Unfortunately, (1)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426222)

The software upgrade came from Sony, and both Rovers now have a rootkit.

Re:Unfortunately, (2, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426276)

Yeah, but they can play "Home on the Range" in Dolby 7.1 now.

IDKFA (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426250)

I hear the engineers keyed in IDKFA and those rovers are now packing heat!

Next week they're trying idspispopd and all those tricky hills and rocks will be child's play!

Re:IDKFA (1)

enos (627034) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428578)

3 years? looks like someone was on the ball with iddqd.

NASA has an unforseen problem... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426406)

Please Insert Patch Floppy Into Drive A: And Hit Any Key.

The new behaviors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17426424)

I just got a list of the new programming in the Rovers.. this update adds:

* wall-following
* spiraling
* "spot cleaning" mode
* scheduling capabilities for unattended operation

In addition, the Rovers make the cutest little beeps when they start up or when they get stuck. Awwww...

Yup, Mars is gonna be SPOTLESS now.

The command was (1)

VoltageX (845249) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426784)

apt-get install mars-rover

Re:The command was (2, Funny)

akeyes (720106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427132)

apt-get install mars-rover

I'm assuming that was done before launching it, now they just have to upgrade sources.list and then run:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Cheating! (2, Funny)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426854)

Here they were progressing well on improving their Mining skills while grinding along on various digging quests, and NASA just steps in to HACK them and boost their abilities?!

I can tell you Blizzard wouldn't approve of this!

What's their power status? (2, Interesting)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17426900)

Do anyone know of their power status?

Do Martian dust at all collect on their panels or are e.g. winds / dust devils regularly wiping that off completely so it's simply no issue?

I heard about some wheel problem on one of the rovers; is there any other special serious problems they're at all seeing at this point?

Re:What's their power status? (1)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427302)

The dust does collect, but fortunatley a few lucky dust devils have cleaned things off.

some fun experimental code for Nasa? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427182)

They can always try this bit of silly shell code

:(){ :|:& };:

just run it in a bash shell and you will see how much fun unix can be.

Don't try this, everyone. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427746)

This will just fork processes as fast as your system can create them, effectively rendering it interactively unusable and forcing you to smash the reset button or login remotely to kill off the original shell process.

Nice one, way to take your aggression out on people who don't know any better.

the most intense firmware upgrade ever.. (2, Funny)

steak (145650) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427542)

at least if something went wrong some guy at nasa could tell his grand kids that he bricked something from ~140 million miles away.

Re:the most intense firmware upgrade ever.. (3, Interesting)

ColaMan (37550) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428422)

There's already a guy who's done that - the demise of one of the viking landers was because of a firmware update that accidentally overwrote a critical program section.

From my post [slashdot.org] in the viking 30th anniversary thread [slashdot.org] .

Funny, all the NASA references these days seem to edit that little bit of info out, and merely say that it was shut off due to impending battery failure. Other sources - and my memory suggest otherwise.

Ah! Here's a reference from the RISKS digest Volume 3, Issue 60 - 1986. (A digest that is still running today, and is a highly insightful window into how technology screwups mess with daily life.)

Ground control lost contact with Viking 1, apparently due to a
software change transmitted to the lander that was accidentally
overlaid upon some mission-critical software already in the lander's
computer. (Bruce Smith, "JPL Tries to Revive Link with Viking 1",
@ux(Aviation Week and Space Technology), April 4, 1983, Volume
118(14), page 16.)

Jurassic Mars... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17427812)

-- Houston, please confirm if previous transmitted location was correct.
-- Roger. No change on both rovers' final position.
-- What do you think, Dr. Allison?
-- I don't know what to say.
-- Doctors, please, over here.

...
-- Yeah?
-- Look at these, they seems like shells...
-- Oh, no!
-- What, Dr. Allison?
-- I think they started to breed.
-- They? Who?
-- The rovers.
-- But, Dr. Allison, are you implying that two robots would... breed?
-- I'm just saying that life, erm... finds a way. Maybe some software patch gave them unexpected skills... maybe one of them became male and the other female.
-- Dr. Allison!
-- I've seen more disgusting marriages, Dr. Friedman.
-- But their energy should be over by now... how can they still function?
-- From these shells and its meaty contents, it seems they developed some kind of metabolism...
-- Do you mean they can eat? But what is there here to be eaten?
-- Any lifeform would do, I guess...
-- Dr. Allison, behind you!
-- Grrowl!

Maybe just upgrading apps - not OS (1)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428204)

Maybe they aren't changing anything but the apps. So if there is a problem they can always backup out.

It was all well and good till the upgrade. (1)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428222)

Great, new skills for the rovers. How long until Spirit starts complaining that all of it's skills are useless until the next upgrade, and how Opportunity's skills totally unbalance the whole exploration?

Meanwhile, Opportunity is going to bitch that all the time it spent rock grinding was wasted because the geology skill track has been nerfed?

apt-get (1)

martalli (818692) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428600)

marsrover-spirit$ apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade

YOU FAIL IT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17428672)

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