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.

It Must Be Ice

Phoenix has found ice on Mars:

June 19, 2008 — Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.

“It must be ice,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it’s ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can’t do that.”

You can see an image here. Awesome.

This is pretty historic. The US has hopes of putting a man on Mars sometime in the 2030 time frame (well after a return to the moon). Water on Mars will likely have an impact on how that mission is designed, and possibly it’s success.

Mars has ice caps, that’s been known for a long time. Subterranean ice was suspected, and now confirmed.

It Bounces

It’s bouncing!

As I type initial confirmation that it (Opportunity) survived touchdown!

Wow, I’m upset I missed the first one. Extremely fun to watch. It’s like a Geeky Superbowl. The only thing I don’t see is a cooler being pored on anyone… and I’m not sure if that’s due to some asthma, or the computers ;-).

It’s a real entertaining kick to watch. I highly recommend it.

“Strong signals” is what I hear.

TONS of fun for all who missed it. The past 5 minutes were the best streaming video I’ve seen outside of Steve Jobs Keynotes… and I’d say it’s a tie when it comes to that.

Update: It’s rolling!