One of the exciting contributions of high performance computing in the high tech era we live in has to do with space travel and the exploration of neighboring planets. A current, notable example would be the successful landing of NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, which is supported by Dell’s HPC technology. Click here to check out the specs from Dell.com. For the next two years this mobile science laboratory is going to roam the planet of Mars.
Data Analysis is a Complicated Proposition
The Curiosity has been described as a “chemistry set on wheels” that is loaded with cameras and gadgets galore. Perhaps one of the most complicated aspects of the mission has to do with providing data analysis in two of the NASA High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters which are running Dell PowerEdge servers (here are some examples). The amount of man hours and technology that has been put into this multi-billion dollar endeavor is impressive to say the least.
The Largest Rover to Land on Mars
The Curiosity is the biggest rover that has ever been sent to explore Mars. It is managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory which is located in Pasadena, California. The Curiosity landed at 10:32, Pacific Daylight time on August 5th 2012.
Searching for Clues
Having been launched on November 26th, 2011 it took about 352 million miles of journey and 8 months to arrive at the red planet. The landing took place by the Martian equator at the base of a mountain in the Gale Crater. One of the great questions that scientists want to uncover has to do with whether the planet ever provided weather conditions that could have sustained life.
Could Mars have Sustained Life in the Past?
Researchers hope to find clues about previous environmental conditions that could have potentially supported life by studying the mountain’s layers. They also hope to find evidence of past life on the planet. Finding evidence of previous life on Mars would be very exciting news.
Analyzing Large Amounts of Test Data
Galaxy and Nebula are JPL’s HPC clusters that are made by Dell. They have provided critical support to the Curiosity in evaluating the huge amounts of test data that was needed to prepare the rover for entering Martian atmosphere and landing the space vehicle on the planet. Dell PowerEdge servers were used to make up the Nebula and Galaxy clusters.
Less than Half a Chance at Success
In the past, Russia, Europe, Japan and the U.S. have sent a total of 40 spacecraft to explore Mars but no country has attempted to send human beings to that part of the universe. Twenty six of those attempts have failed. With less than a 50% success ratio, you can only imagine the applause and cheers that broke out at the NASA Jet Propulsion when the first signal came verifying that the rover had landed successfully.
High Performance Computing and other Technology Gets the Job Done
It is truly mind numbing to imagine a spacecraft speeding through outer space at 13,000 miles per hour and then slamming into the Martian atmosphere. Following that, technology is used to meticulously execute 79 events that result in the graceful landing of the vehicle on the surface of this foreign planet. Whether it has to do with the engineering of the Curiosity, liftoff, the flight there, the landing or the information gathering mission that takes place now that the Curiosity has landed, the use of technology and high performance computing has played a critical role in getting the job done.
images via NASA HQ on Flickr