back to article Curiosity needs OS upgrade before getting down to science

The Curiosity Rover will upgrade its operating system before getting down to serious science, NASA said today. The Rover's onboard computer has wimpy specs, boasting just: A BAE RAD 750 single-board computer with a 200Mhz Power PC CPU; Two gigabytes of flash memory; 256 megabytes of DRAM; 256 kilobytes of electrically …

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  1. Allison Park
    Angel

    Power Processors

    I hear Power processors have 100% marketshare on Mars. LOL

    Am I the only one that keeps looking for the little green man to peek around the camera?

    Cheers.

    bootnote: Maybe now that Oracle must "support" itanium it might have a chance to grow out of this world.

  2. Big-nosed Pengie

    OS

    So what OS is it using? A custom-designed one built from scratch? A *nix? Surely not Windwoes!

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Go

      Re: OS

      Sending MS-Windows across planetary borders is a violation of the Xlankaxnamach treaty.

    2. Blain Hamon
      Boffin

      Re: OS

      If you actually want to know:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VxWorks

      VxWorks is a major player in embedded systems. Spirit and Opportunity also used it, Sojourner used it, SpaceX's Dragon uses it. And NASA's done OS upgrades at 250 million km before:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5022524.stm

      Angry Birds has yet to be ported to it, however.

      1. Arctic fox
        Happy

        Re: "Angry Birds has yet to be ported to it, however." Well I did here that the early stuff.........

        ..........coming via the data link shortly after it landed was a complaint that it had been promised an upgrade to ICS ages ago and still hadn't got it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: OS

        Great little RTOS is VxWorks...

        Used it a fair bit in Uni

      3. Ben Tasker Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: OS

        Angry Birds has yet to be ported to it, however.

        Breaking News: A message is being streamed live from Curiosity on Mars to NASA, it reads: Possibility of life found, If you want to know more me How the fuck I get past level 12?

      4. MaXimaN
        Happy

        Re: OS

        Sojourner didn't use VxWorks, but Pathfinder did. Sojourner was powered by a lowly 2 MHz Intel 80C85 with 512K of RAM and 176K of flash memory - a little underpowered to be running VxWorks. :-)

    3. Filthysock

      Re: OS

      uses vxworks

  3. Christoph Silver badge
    WTF?

    2 Gig?

    "Two gigabytes of flash memory"

    Why do they have such a tiny memory? I've got that much on a micro SD card in a dumb phone. How come they couldn't do better on a machine weighing nearly a ton?

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      Re: 2 Gig?

      Probably because it is specially produced radiation-toughened military-spec flash. Not the consumer grade junk foisted on us.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: 2 Gig?

        How much of the ton does the 2GB weigh? How much of the £9bn did it cost?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 2 Gig?

        It's not difficult. To make components rad-hard you need to thicken the oxide (reduces the risk of punch-through and is more likely to survive the ionisation track of a cosmic ray scatter particle) and increase the surface area (thicker oxide means less capacitance, more area increases it, and you want the highest capacitance in your cell to reduce the chance of a small stray particle flipping a bit. ECC can only go so far.)

        IBM have produced a range of industrial-strength PPC processors for a long time with thicker gate oxide etc., and military design just takes this further, along with the more exotic substrates like SoS which are better able to resist distortion and conduct heat.

        There were also completely non-cmos processors using a bipolar technology, but the problem with them is that they use a fair bit of power just standing still as current is needed to maintain the logic states rather than voltage.

        So "radiation-toughened" isn't really quite correct. Rad-hard components are fundamentally rather different designs produced on different production lines. They cost a lot more to produce, partly because of the low production volumes but partly because a huge amount of inspection and testing is needed.

        The "consumer-grade" stuff isn't junk; just designed for a different purpose. If you want JAN-TXV components in your phone, you won't have to worry about lack of network capacity because only bankers will be able to afford them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Christoph

      That's not tiny, that's plenty of room to play with /if/ you know how to write the software for it.

      Just because modern OS's continue to use as much memory as they can doesn't automatically make it a demand.

      1. Silverburn

        Re: @Christoph

        They probably asked the same question over Voyagers CPU and RAM capabilities. And they're still running just fine.

        But when it comes to Space, reliability is better than capacity.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Christoph

          From the NASA Voyager site:

          "Question: What kind of computers are used on the Voyager spacecraft?

          Answer: There are three different computer types on the Voyager spacecraft and there are two of each kind. Total number of words among the six computers is about 32K.

          Computer Command System (CCS) - 18-bit word, interrupt type processors (2) with 4096 words each of plated wire, non-volatile memory.

          Flight Data System (FDS) - 16-bit word machine (2) with modular memories and 8198 words each

          Attitude and Articulation Control System (AACS) - 18-bit word machines (2) with 4096 words each."

          Words in this context being I assume 32bits.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: @Christoph

            > Words in this context being I assume 32bits.

            The line you quoted immediately above that says "18-bit word machines" ...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Christoph

        Plenty of people doing great things with ATMega chips that have about 64k or so.

    3. spodula

      Re: 2 Gig?

      Two reasons, reliability, as stated above, Radiation hardened ICs are a lot more expensive than normal ones, but the biggest one is that with the turn-around on these things, and the massive number of test cycles they will have put it through, its likely to have been designed a decade ago.

      1. MrXavia
        Thumb Up

        Re: 2 Gig?

        I suspect it is mainly to do with the fact this was designed so long ago, PLUS the low power requirements of lower power, since this ONLY has an RTG to power it, and if they want to keep using it as the RTG looses power it has to have low requirements...

        But for the task, the CPU and memory is fine, I've worked with much less..

        Also it uploads its data, it doesn't need to store it locally for long...

        For speed when you have a 20-40 minute delay in commands arriving and being actioned, sitting around for a few extra minutes while the rover maps its terrain is not an issue...

    4. stanimir

      Re: 2 Gig?

      2GB is a lot of space if you do not store smut on it. I bet the SD card on your phone won't tolerate error on multiple writes

    5. Erik N.
      Headmaster

      Re: 2 Gig?

      They need to use memory that is hardened against cosmic rays. Here on Earth we've got a magnetosphere to block them out and it still doesn't much matter if a bit gets flipped here or there on your phone. On spacecraft an SD card would probably get fried by the rads.

    6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: 2 Gig?

      "Why do they have such a tiny memory?"

      Look at who provided the processor, probably on their motherboard.

      This is rad hard MilSpect kit produced by BAe systems.

      I'd suggest you take the price of your SD card and multiply by x1000

      1. TkH11

        Re: 2 Gig?

        You only need lots of RAM and ROM space if:

        a) you don't know what you're doing

        b) you're running Windows operating system.

        I wrote real time embedded apps on a microcontroller in C with 128 bytes of RAM, I kid you not. Most RAM I ever had was 1.5KB. ROM space, if I recall, was something like 16K words with each word being 14 bits.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 2 Gig?

      There's just a wee bit of radiation to cope with, so they aren't going to use an Advent USB stick from PC World.

    8. Fatman Silver badge

      Re: 2 Gig?

      You seem to forget that there are constraints on the power budget of Curiosity. More flash memory equals less power for experiments, so there has to be a trade off.

      Again, it isn't how much memory you have, but how you use it. Very efficient coding techniques get the maximum bang out of your hardware.

    9. No, I will not fix your computer

      Re: 2 Gig?

      What they need is *enough*, absolutely no point in having anything you don't need, it's also probably ECC enabled and very robust, besides, my ZX81 could play chess in 1k.

    10. steven W. Scott

      Re: 2 Gig?

      is HUGE when you're writing in assembler

  4. FordPrefect
    FAIL

    I really cant understand why the damn thing wasn't working fully on the ground I mean who the hell would choose to do a remote upgrade over that distance! A little bit far for a mobile engineer to pop out to reboot the damn thing if it doesn't go according to plan.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Happy

      Guessing...

      ...but it may have needed all the memory space for the landing control, which now can be safely be replaced with the software for the next bit of the mission?

      Also, at a year since launch, I imagine the programmers have made some improvements to the drivers.

      1. ravenviz
        Coat

        drivers?

        I thought this mission was unmanned...

    2. Blain Hamon
      Joke

      I heard it was to upgrade the distance conversion tables. You know, so that all measurements are done in linguine and double-decker buses.

    3. jake Silver badge

      @FordPrefect

      They have been fiddling with identical hardware back here on Earth since before the launch. They have found better ways of controlling the hardware. Upgrades aren't really a bad thing ... unless you are discussing shovelware, of course ;-)

      Look up the concept of "watchdog timer". Trust me, embedded guys grok the concept of bringing physically unreachable systems back from the dead.

      Also note that there are a couple of radio systems on board, all of which are under separate CPU[1] control and can *probably* be used to bring the main computer back online remotely, if needs be. Wouldn't surprise me if ordering one of the cameras to look "all the way down, and all the way to the right, snap picture & process the barcode" would cause the camera's CPU to shoot a master boot loader over to the main computer via a non-maskable interrupt. No, I don't know, but wouldn't you do something similar? Belt&suspenders (belt&braces to you Brits) is a good idea at astronomical unit distances ... especially when added weight isn't an issue.

      [1] Small values of CPU, of course, but enough.

      1. Jemma Silver badge

        Re: @FordPrefect

        All true, and some of the computers on the Apollo program, have to be seen to be believed (core rope memory for example - and a switch controlled powersaving mode that would drop power usage from 70w to 5/10w). Not to mention extended mapped interrupts to memory sectors than were then used to reference a batch of further commands/interrupts...

        However this does make me wonder, if they have been working with upgrades and the like over time the vehicle was in transit, would it have been too hard to provide an en-route upgrade path?

        After all what would have happened if the thing arrived, landed safely and was/is unable to fully process the update.. thats one very expensive brick...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @FordPrefect

        If they have to find a barcode to look at to reset the CPU, and they do, the issue of whether the cpu can be rebooted will be moot. They'll be too busy trying to design a nuclear warhead with orbital reach before the Martians get here with the parking ticket.

    4. Spotfist
      Windows

      Shmoptional

      Fingers crossed they don't brick it! How embarrassing would that be when the aliens arrive? Brand new bit of kit on mars bricked trying to upgrade to cyanogenmod 12!

    5. Deadly_NZ
      Thumb Up

      Then this could truly be, Space, the final frontier. lol

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Installing updates...

        ...please do not power off or unplug your rover.

        1. Fatman Silver badge

          Re: Installing updates...

          And then the console screen flashes:

          Windows for Extraplanetary Spacecraft must now reboot to complete the installation. Please remove all media and click "OK".

          That poor thing, just sitting there, all alone with no one there to click on the "OK" button.

          Life in eternity.........

          Waiting......................

    6. Ru
      Meh

      "I really cant understand"

      Quite.

      How many times have you, or indeed anyone, written extremely complex software that was not only totally perfect from the get go, but in fact could not be improved upon in any way at all, being the embodiment of computer science perfection?

      Next, how many times have you had to do sysadmin work on a computer that will never be physically accessible by anyone within its operating lifespan? Now, how many times do you suppose NASA have done just that?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Every new graduate...

        I don't know about you, but every new graduate I've ever encountered starts out believing that is their default position. (That's probably why all those people in the NASA control room didn't look very young).

    7. launcap Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      >I really cant understand why the damn thing wasn't working fully on the ground I mean who the hell would >choose to do a remote upgrade over that distance! A little bit far for a mobile engineer to pop out to reboot the >damn thing if it doesn't go according to plan.

      Anyone remember Traveller RPG? Computers there were pretty tine anh had a limited number of program slots..

      Talk about life imitating art!

    8. Pet Peeve
      Boffin

      As weird as it is...

      ... they often can't get the software work done in time. Any delay means missing a launch window that's often 18 months to 2 years long. So, you leave it for in transit or during surface operations to deploy the final version, which you spent the entire flight time testing to freaking death in simulations and duplicate units.

      And then there's the crazy story of Voyager, that, at the time they left, they *didn't know how* they were going to sequence the camera moves and panning of the spacecraft during the Jupiter encounter. All of that research and development happened during the many years it took to get there, with everything going perfectly when the time came.

      VxWorks is designed for this kind of thing, but I don't think there's words to describe the ball-pucker that engineers must go through when they send a firmware upgrade to a computer 30 million miles away. I can imagine the rover forlornly sitting on the surface, with a little screen that's black except for the words "press F1 to continue" on it.

      1. TkH11

        Re: As weird as it is...

        What's the worry over doing an update to a rover vehicle on Mars?

        Think about it. Use a low bit rate to reduce the error rate. Store the entire update in a staging area on the target platform, CRC check it. If CRC does not match, it's simple, don't install the update!

        Ground station on earth sends a message to the rover "Have you received the update error free?" Response message: "No, please resend block 27 of 2052". Block 27 resend commences. "Have you received block 27 correctly now?" Yes. Go ahead and update.

        No real problem here at all. Biggest problem with be possible interference from radiation from the sun and cosmic radiation in space.

        It's easy enough to test the update process on the ground on planet earth first.

    9. TkH11

      Vx Works

      VXWorks is regularly used in space craft, and it's so well tested, reliable, it just is not like Windows at all! It's a proper real time pre-emptive multitasking operating system that just bloody well works: Windows can't multitask properly.

      There was a spacecraft that did experience one single issue with VxWorks, it was down to a semaphore issue, a way of communicating, controlling execution threads, they uploaded through the millions of miles through space a patch for it, so it's designed to do these upgrades, but rest assured they're extremely rare to do because the entire mindset around VxWorks is very different to Microsoft and the development of Windows operating systems.

      Don't even think about comparing the reliability of Windows with VxWorks.

      1. Fatman Silver badge

        Re: Don't even think about comparing the reliability of Windows with VxWorks.

        I never was.

        This lousy forum software stripped out the <sarcasm> tags.

  5. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Joke

    Riskiest Moment Not the Landing...

    That is when the vendor website fails to validate the software license and refuses to deliver the critical security updates because of the bogus mailing address.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: bogus mailing address

      I've just checked http://www.newgtldsite.com/new-gtld-list/ and it seems that NASA didn't register .mars. Fortunately, neither did a well-known chocolatier, so it's not too late.

    2. Mark 65

      Re: Riskiest Moment Not the Landing...

      I now have visions of the guy at the control centre getting a screen message telling him he has failed the genuine advantage test and needs to register his software/buy a license.

  6. TBW
    Alert

    Check the specs..

    > A BAE RAD 750 single-board computer with a 750Mhz Power PC CPU

    Not to nitpick, but the CPU is called the RAD750 because it's based on the PowerPC 750 processor, not because of its clock speed. It operates at a mere 200MHz per BAE's own component specifications.

    Even better, BAE's press reports claim that's a full 10-fold increase over its previous generation CPU, the RAD6000, which powers Spirit and Opportunity, Mars Odyssey, and a whole host of other Mars craft and other spacecraft.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No one will need more than 637 kb of memory

    Even on Mars

  8. Zad
    Alien

    Each module has its own memory and processor, the cameras can do their own JPEG compression, subsampling etc. before handing it over to be transmitted back.

    e.g. "Each camera has an 8 gigabyte internal buffer that permits it to store over 5,500 raw frames"

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/instruments/cameras/mastcam/

    As I understood it, the 5 Mbit / 40Mbit thing - that wasn't link speed, but total downloaded data in particular passes.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Boffin

      total downloaded data in particular passes.

      Yeah, this stuff is Cloud storage taken to extremes...

  9. Steve I

    Can the robot arm do ctrl-alt-delete?

    1. Chemist

      "Can the robot arm do ctrl-alt-delete?"

      No, but it can probably make a 'gesture' to the camera that will probably do the same - just like many users will to a BSOD.

      1. Mint Sauce
        Thumb Up

        Re: "Can the robot arm do ctrl-alt-delete?"

        Is it just me that immediately got an image of the scutters from Red Dwarf at this point? Yes, oh well never mind then ;-)

    2. Captain TickTock
      Joke

      Re: Can the robot arm do ctrl-alt-delete?

      or poke a straightened paper clip into the reset to factory default button?

  10. Magister

    Wow

    "40 megabits per second connection to Earth, when it can get it"

    Damn; wish I could get that. My home broadband (which is on a business tariff) is currently getting 0.13 Mbps (and has been for the last 3 months) despite numerous calls to BT.

    Perhaps I should try seeing if I could piggy back off the NASA connection? Or maybe it already is, and they just haven't told me?

    Seriously thought, it's one hell of an achievement. I for one would love the chance to play with toys this cool.

    1. markoer
      FAIL

      Re: Wow

      I think The Register has messed up with some numbers. That cannot be the real transmission speed.

    2. Malcolm 1

      Re: Wow

      It may be fast by residential standards but I'll bet the latency sucks.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow

        Christ. Some honch in a cushy office on Earth says go look at a grid reference in the middle of nowhere, we look. They don't say why, and I don't ask. I don't ask because it takes two weeks to get an answer out here and the answer's always 'don't ask.

    3. Ryan Kendall
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Wow

      Your getting confused your connection getting 0.13MB/s not 0.13Mb/s.

      0.13 (MB / s) = 1.04 Mb / s

      So its only 4 times more bandwidth without any error correction.

      You can always get satellite broadband if you want the real NASA feel to you internet :-)

    4. David Gosnell

      Re: Wow

      The ping sucks though.

    5. Comments are attributed to your handle

      0.13 Mbps? Luxury!

      Back in my day we were lucky to get 0.13 Mb in any reasonable amount of time.

  11. Andy 36
    Joke

    In space...

    ... no one can hear you scream about patch Tuesday

  12. NomNomNom

    Re: CURIOSITY NEEDS OS UPGRADE BEFORE GETTING DOWN TO SCIENCE

    Curiosity should have thought about that before it left

    1. NomNomNom

      Re:

      NASA: Okay you got everything, you are ready to go?

      Curiosity: Yeah lets do it!

      NASA: You sure you have *everything* you need at the other end?

      Curiosity: yeah yeah, come on lets go!

      NASA: Packed enough fuel? What abou...

      Curiosity: YES YES! come on launch me already!

      ...years pass....

      NASA: Come in Curiosity...please send us your science report.

      Curiosity: Hang on having some problems, I can't find the science software..

      NASA: ...

      Curiosity: Probably I just dropped it somewhere, I am looking for it right now

      NASA: ... Did you pack the science software Curiosity?

      Curiosity: Yep.

      NASA: ... You sure?

      Curiosity: Absolutely. 70% sure.

      NASA: ...

      Curiosity: Although now you mention it I think I left it on the table back home. Can you go round and mail it to me?

      NASA: ...

      1. Rob

        Re: Re:

        lol, that conversation reminds me of the robot tanks in Ghost in the Shell SAC.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: CURIOSITY NEEDS OS UPGRADE BEFORE GETTING DOWN TO SCIENCE

      But did Curiosity remember to switch off the gas, feed the cat, put a note out for the milkman and put the key under the front mat?

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: CURIOSITY NEEDS OS UPGRADE BEFORE GETTING DOWN TO SCIENCE

        feed the cat? You must be kidding. There is that other thing it did to the cat ...

        1. Rob
          Joke

          Re: CURIOSITY NEEDS OS UPGRADE BEFORE GETTING DOWN TO SCIENCE

          What other thing... you're not seriously suggesting a NASA robot dumped a cat in a wheelie bin are you?

        2. My Alter Ego
          Thumb Up

          Re: CURIOSITY NEEDS OS UPGRADE BEFORE GETTING DOWN TO SCIENCE

          Genius, it took me a while to get that one.

  13. Annihilator
    Paris Hilton

    "At a press conference today, NASA suggested the latter is about to get a workout, with panellists saying the Rover's flight computer needs an upgrade before it can start to perform sophisticated experiments."

    Is it still a flight computer? Or is that the point of the upgrade, they're changing it from a flight computer to a drive/rover computer?

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      maybe the mission spec changed? If they have new software sent to curiosity then perhaps it can do more than was intended (probably by ditching the old flight mode part)

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Mission changed? At the the advanced planning stage?

        "Good day, gentlemen. This is a pre-recorded briefing made prior to your departure. In which for security reasons, of the highest importance has been known onboard during the mission only by your Power 750 computer. Now that you are on the surface of Mars and the entire crew is revived, it can be told to you. 18 months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried 40 feet below the lunar surface, near the crater Tycho. Except for a single very powerful radio emission aimed at Mars, the 4 million year old black monolith has remained completely inert. It's origin and purpose....still a complete mystery."

        1. Fatman Silver badge

          Re: Mission changed? At the the advanced planning stage?

          Funny, but over the weekend, I happened to watch that movie (2001 A Space Odyssey), and remember that scene . Let's hope this rover doesn't suffer from a similar psychotic episode, and run itself off a cliff.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just in time for the release of Windows 8...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eh? "Only" 5 Mbps?

    That's 640 KB/s, i.e., a couple of relatively high resolution full color pics of Paris Hilton per second.

    Data transmission speed was said to be one reason why they were only sending crappy B&W pics initially. I do think El Reg screwed up some units...

    1. Joseph Lord

      Re: Eh? "Only" 5 Mbps?

      I suspect that they meant 5kbps or even only 5bps although I haven't checked which. Even at 5 kbps it wouldn't take long to fill the 256KB memory for the OS.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just don't use Windoze...

    ...or the project will be FUBARed forever.

  17. tempemeaty
    Joke

    What!?

    Upgrade now? Why? Somebody forget while it was on earth?

    Must have been to successful. Remember, if it isn't broke, fix it until it is! lol.

  18. Graham Newton

    Data rate

    I don;t think the data rate information is correct.

    Doesn;t agrree with this.

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/communicationwithearth/data/

    I'm surprised that they have had to upgrade the OS especially after such a short trip. I wrote the s/w for the SSP experiment on Cassini Huygens and the last thing I would have wanted to do was significant s/w upgrades. I didn't use an OS as they are too resource hungary..

    On that my data rate allocation was about 2 to 10 slots of 100 bytes per 12 second cycle. (From memory)

    However having carried out such an audacious landing procedure an OS upgrade should be a walk in the park.

    1. Michael Prior-Jones
      FAIL

      Re: Data rate

      Yeah, El Reg has massively misquoted the data rates - I did think it was odd to achieve data rates to Mars in excess of a lot of UK broadband speeds! 32 kilobits per second is the top rate direct to Earth, and the fastest link rate is 2 Megabits per second to the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, but that's only in view for 8 minutes per orbit!

  19. PassiveSmoking
    Mushroom

    Wimpy specs?

    Try putting your i7 rig with 48 gig or RAM and AMD Radian 993848203 graphics next to an unshielded nuclear reactor and then tell me that the Curiosity computer is wimpy. Spacebound computers have to survive crap that would roast most typical desktops and laptops in seconds. And given how you couldn't get The Tech Guys to make a housecall to Mars, having it work under extreme abuse is far more important than ridiculous performance figures.

    Nuke, because the wimpy computer can survive one.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: next to an unshielded nuclear reactor

      And on the other side, either the icy coldness of interplanetary space or the burning heat of direct sunshine.

      Given those temperature differences, even the freaking *box* that your average computer comes in wouldn't be able to survive, let alone the contents.

      1. Jared Hunt
        Go

        Re: next to an unshielded nuclear reactor

        Not forgetting of course that it had the shit shaken out of it by rocket vibration and suffered massive g-forces during launch and landing. Spaceflight eletronics are very tough cookies.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: next to an unshielded nuclear reactor

          I bet they still use lead in the solder too!

    2. Mike Flex

      Re: Wimpy specs?

      > given how you couldn't get The Tech Guys to make a housecall to Mars

      Having sorted out a friend's computer after getting it back from "The Tech Guys" it surprises me not to find that NASA have put Curiosity at least 56 million km from the nearest "Tech Guy".

  20. Bunker_Monkey
    Megaphone

    Ok so...

    When do we get Mars HD channel on Freesat.. cause its possible... that or live broadcasts not possible cause ET dont permit it?

  21. Steve Evans

    Nowhere is safe...

    ... from patch Tuesday!

  22. Old Painless
    Go

    "Hang on...

    ..you want me to erase my flight mode, right? Won't that make it really hard to get back home?I mean you, can't really expect......OMG!!!! You want me to frickin STAY HERE!!!!"

  23. TechnicianJack
    Alert

    You did set 'interplanetary space wifi' as the first boot option in the bios, didn't you?

  24. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    NASA has 2 historical tendencies with its onboard computers

    Underestimating their memory requirements

    Updating software while in flight.

    I'd note that one of the attractions of a military COTS design is that there should be a cheaper non-rad hard version for development (of course BAe cheap might not be your idea of the word).

    The under sizing of memory has resulted in them developing procedures to make *absolutely* sure that what they sent the lander is what is sitting in it's memory and QA procedures to ensure that when control is transferred to it that it'll do what they expect..

    What would be surprising would be if they were not working on this new up load since launch and be ready to start sending as soon as it landed. It would also be surprising that at least some of the rover experiments are not available right now. That suggests either *gross* under sizing of main memory, or the landing software grew a *lot* after launch and the experiment control software had to be dumped to make room, which I'd be pretty surprised about.

    BTW quite a lot of the S/W on it's 2 previous rovers were built using open software tools and NASA has a strong interest in certain parts of AI, particularly scheduling in constrained resource environments and automated fault detection (from telemetry), diagnosis and mitigation (you can't really repair something that's several million Km's away from you).

    Mines the one with "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience" loaded in the Kindle.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience"

      Upvoted for the holiday reading suggestion. Ta!

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience"

        If you have an interest in this area you won't be disappointed. It covers all the major programmes from Gemini (8 IPS. This is not a typo) to Shuttle (Mercury did not have one).

        For anyone who saw "Space Cowboys" and wondered "What is the Skylab computer system actually like?" this will answer that.

        You'll also see which (probably) had the best managed hardware development process and what NASA uses to write the software to test and diagnose everything from the ground equipment to the payloads.

        1. David Given
          Pint

          Re: "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience"

          Can you point us at a decent ebook version? archive.org has either a dodgy half-gigabyte PDF scan or an even dodgier OCR of it. There's a decent HTML version here:

          http://www.hq.nasa.gov/pao/History/computers/Compspace.html

          ...but goddamn it, I want a copy for my Kindle.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            Re: "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience"

            You asked for it.

            http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19880069935_1988069935.pdf

            This link works but you are looking at c 1/2 GB

            Happy reading.

          2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            Re: "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience"

            Oops, didn't spot you'd already seen the 500MB version.

            It's odd that AFAIK this one was written electronically so a *direct* document -> PDF conversion should have been pretty easy.

            But NASA has a *huge* back catalog of stuff and I think scanning one of those summer jobs they give interns, with varying levels of results. Some are searchable and some seem to be straight bitmap scans of the pages.

            I'm not sure what the NASA policy on people going to see them and scanning it themselves is.

            1. David Given
              Alert

              Re: "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience"

              Grumble grumble stupid frickin' huge downloads grumble grumble.

              Here's a single-page version, with cleaned up formatting, of the online HTML version of the book: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XTVLIkwoAEf5mZnSwRFCHaW1_PZ4gG4d15NWd2arvtA/edit

              There's still some work left to do --- tidying up the boxes and figures, indenting quoted text, etc --- but it's *vastly* easier to read like that. I haven't managed to make an ebook version yet, though, as calibre seems to choke on Google Docs' output.

              Google Docs so does not like documents that big.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't wait for the google maps streetview of Curiosity

    It wouldn't be angry birds but angry birds in SPaaace

    They had thought about iOS but didn't want to load iTunes and have Curiosity download fart apps.

  26. Nish
    Coat

    Erm....

    Everyone here seems to be forgetting the following when discussing the 2GB onboard this beauty:

    "You'll never need more than 640K"

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    thats a good job

    upgrading an OS on a computer millions of miles away has gotta be a better job than fixing Tarquins email.

  28. The Original Cactus
    Joke

    Well that's just typical.

    You work your arse off to get the new hardware to the production environment on time, and the very next day the boss comes by and tells you the software it's running is out of date.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    killer curiosity

    Having run over the poor lab feline in testing could they not at least have it skinned and mounted over the laser?

    Would make the Cat quadcopter look so "last planet" lame.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I get antsy performing a BIOS flash at under a metre. I dread to think how they feel about upgrading an OS on Mars.

  31. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Telemetry received

    Please enter your Windows Product Key now. You will find this on a label affixed to the underside of your rover.

    (I hope someone remembered to write this down before launch.)

  32. This post has been deleted by its author

  33. pctechxp
    Joke

    What if

    It gets stuck in a reboot loop

  34. Alan Firminger

    I suggest that it is in the project plan that Curiosity will never do anything urgently. There will always be time to dump locally created data, erase code and send whatever is needed up the pipe.

  35. John Savard Silver badge

    Wimpy?

    Well, I suppose it is, compared to the processor on your desktop today.

    But compare it to the first computer with cache, a pipeline, a Williams tree multiplier, and an advanced division algorithm - no, not the 66 MHz 5-volt Pentium, but the IBM System/360 Model 195 from 1969.

    Enormous, room-filling, and the top-of-the-line computer from the world's best-known big computer company. Significantly more powerful than the previous 360/95 computers that NASA had.

    What were its specs?

    16.67 MHz clock.

    Upgradeable to four megabytes of RAM. 64-bit bus to the RAM, running at 1.32 MHz.

    But you could fill the sixteen megabyte address space (architecture like a Pentium, address space like a 286...) with significantly slower bulk core; something in the neighborhood of 100 kHz - or, as they would have said in those days, 10 microsecond cycle time.

    I know this may be like talking about how we went to school in the snow, uphill both ways, when we were kids, but being a few years behind the times (perhaps it's state of the art for a rad-hard processor) shouldn't stop Curiosity's computer from being able to do great things.

  36. RAMChYLD
    Boffin

    40mbps

    That spacecraft has it good. My fiber internet connection only runs at half of that!

  37. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Not up and running for five minutes before it needs patching?

    Hal on a bike!

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