Refurbished Satellites?

From Network World:

Scientists at DARPA say there are some 1,300 satellites worth over $300B sitting out in Earth’s geostationary orbit (GEO) that could be retrofitted or harvested for new communications roles and it designed a program called Phoenix which it says would use a squadron “satlets” and a larger tender craft to grab out-of-commission satellites and retrofit or retrieve them for parts or reuse.

This is some serious Star Wars stuff here.

Astronaut Life Insurance

How did the Apollo astronauts get life insurance? Well, they didn’t. So they made their own according to Collectors Weekly:

The so-called “insurance” postal covers from Apollo 11 are a safe way of acquiring the crew’s autographs. As Buzz Aldrin has explained, “Since we were unable to obtain adequate life insurance due to the high risk nature of being an astronaut, we signed this group of covers and evenly distributed them to our families for safe keeping while we performed our mission. If an unfortunate event prevented our safe return, the covers would have provided a limited financial means of support to our families.”

This is really a clever approach if you think about it.

On Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong On The Moon

He’s not the first of the twelve to die, but certainly the most notable, and perhaps the most modest. The first person on earth to ever step onto a non earth body simply described himself as:

“I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer,”

He walked on the freaking moon, and he simply describes himself as a nerdy engineer, as if he were one of the legions of IBM or HP employees at their peak.

The youngest Apollo astronaut to have walked on the moon is Charles Duke, who is 76 years old in a nation where the life expectancy for a man is 75.6 years. We’ve effectively got no space program together other than a few rovers being shot to Mars. Within a decade, for the first time in my life, it’s possible there won’t be a man alive who has walked on the moon.

Credit must be given to the generation who pulled it off. We may be capable of having a video call across the glove, but we’re far from being able to repeat what they did decades ago visiting the moon.

Thanks Mr. Armstrong for literally shooting for the moon.

More On Mars Curiosity’s Processor

Interesting IAmA on reddit with the Mars Curiosity team. Lots of great stuff but being a programmer this caught my eye:

You are right that the processor does feel acient. Our current smarthphones are more powerful. The reasoning for this is three-fold. First of all, the computer was selected about 8 years ago, so we have the latest and greated space certified parts that existed then. Second of all, it was the most rubost and proven space grade processor at that time. Thirdly, in order to make a processor radiation hardened it requires lots of tricks on the silicon that is not conducive to making it fast. Given that, it does not run any GUIs and can just focus on raw programming, and actually gets a lot done. All of the programming is done in C, and our toolchain is very similar to programming on any platform.

-JG (presumably Jonny Grinblat aka “Pre-celebration Guy” – Avionics System Engineer)

I did mention a few days ago specifically about the CPU and how it’s really similar to the Power Mac G3’s of the late 90’s.

Mars Curiosity Lands

Mars Curiosity First Pics

I’ve said it once today, and I’ll say it again:

Realization: No matter what I do today, it won’t be as awesome as landing a 1 ton robot on Mars with a space crane.

Curiosity is the pinnacle of science and if it’s predecessors (Spirit and Opportunity) are any indication will have a long life of helping us explore Mars.

A neat little side note is that the processor of choice in the rover is a RAD750. Which is based on the PowerPC 750, aka the PowerPC G3. When you look at the specs, you’ve got to admit, it looks a lot like those G3 Mac’s (except they used spinning disks and not flash storage back then):

On-board memory includes 256MB of DRAM and 2 GB of Flash Memory both with error detection and correction and 256kB of EEPROM.

A neat little tidbit. This rover’s close relative was my desktop computer in High School.

NASA’s Streaming Server Setup

With Curiosity’s landing just hours away GigaOM has some information on how NASA plans to stream coverage of the landing. Sounds like the big winners are Nginx and Amazon Elastic Load Balancer:

They built a test infrastructure comprised of a single origin server (a Mac Pro housed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) serving four bitrates (250, 500, 750 and 1,000) to a single Flash Media Server. Output was cached by a single “tier 1″ Nginx server, fronted by 40 “tier 2″ load-balanced Nginx servers running on Amazon EC2.

Nothing terribly shocking, though always interesting to see inside how others are handling large traffic events. Nginx is one heck of a capable server for this sort of task.

Tour Kennedy Space Center In Google Maps

NASA - Shuttle Atlantis - Google Maps Tour

The folks at Gizmodo point out that Google Maps has an awesome feature now that lets you tour NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. You can point and click your way through all the different parts you’d never have the security clearance to go yourself.

Needless to say I spent a nice little chunk of the evening browsing around.

Most Apollo Flags Still Standing

From the BBC:

Images taken by a NASA spacecraft show that the American flags planted in the Moon’s soil by Apollo astronauts are mostly still standing.

The photos from Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter (LRO) show the flags are still casting shadows – except the one planted during the Apollo 11 mission.

This matches Buzz Aldrin’s account of the flag being knocked over by engine exhaust as Apollo 11 lifted off.

Pretty amazing to think they survived this long. It also shows how little we know about the harsh space environment. Virtually nobody thought there was a chance of finding them intact.