The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Dennis Wingo on reestablishing contact with a satellite that had been silent for 17 years.
Subscribe to the O’Reilly Solid podcast to stay on top of topics related to the Internet of Things, hardware, software, manufacturing, and the blurring of the physical and virtual worlds.
After an hour of recounting his techno-archaeology exploits — reverse-engineering the arcane analog image-transmission systems that NASA’s engineers developed in the 1960s — Dennis paused and said, “and that’s just one of our history projects.”
That teaser is where we begin today’s episode. Ready to apply modern computing to another analog challenge, Dennis turned his attention to the reboot of the International Sun/Earth Explorer-3, a research satellite launched in 1978 and commended to the heavens in 1997.
NASA decommissioned the equipment for communicating with the satellite in 1999, so Dennis set about reverse-engineering the ISEE-3’s control system and devising a way to communicate with it. In the 1970s, he would have needed custom analog hardware, but now, general-purpose hardware is powerful enough that he could do it all with software. Read more…
Dennis Wingo on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, the project's Indiegogo campaign, and Skycorp.
We’re kicking off our newest series, the O’Reilly Solid Podcast, with an episode recorded in the manager’s office of a McDonald’s at NASA’s Ames Research Center. David Cranor and I visited McMoon’s, as it’s known, to talk with Dennis Wingo, founder of two audacious “techno archaeology” efforts.
In the first episode, we discuss the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, which has rescued NASA’s first high-resolution images from satellites orbiting the moon. Dennis’ team reverse-engineered the extraordinary analog image transmission system that the satellites used in 1966 and 1967, digitized 14 tons of magnetic tape, and interpreted them to compose imagery at vastly higher resolution than NASA was originally able to recover from the satellites. Read more…
The Tango smartphone will help SPHERES navigate space station modules.
I work in the Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) at NASA Ames Research Center, and when we got the chance to collaborate with our next-door neighbor Google on their new Project Tango, we knew exactly what to do: we’re sending the Project Tango smartphone to the International Space Station, where it will set our robots free.
Smart SPHERES with a space-ready Project Tango phone. Photo courtesy of NASA.
The director of NASA's Ames Research Center and the CTO of Square talk about Ames's new computing venture, fraud prevention, and dirigible hangars.
At Sci Foo Camp a few weeks ago we recorded a conversation with Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and Bob Lee, CTO of Square. Among our topics on this wide-ranging podcast: quantum computing, which Ames is pursuing in partnership with Google; fraud prevention; and the remarkable Hangar One, built to accommodate dirigible aircraft at Moffett Field (the former Navy base that’s now home to Ames).
In 2013, developers will once again boldly contribute code to projects where their code has never gone before.
From April 20 to April 21, on Earth Day, the second international Space Apps Challenge will invite developers on all seven continents to the bridge to contribute code to NASA projects.
Given longstanding concerns about the sustainability of apps contests, I was curious about NASA’s thinking behind launching this challenge. When I asked NASA’s open government team about the work, I immediately heard back from Nick Skytland (@Skytland), who heads up NASA’s open innovation team.
“The International Space Apps Challenge was a different approach from other federal government ‘app contests’ held before,” replied Skytland, via email.
“Instead of incentivizing technology development through open data and a prize purse, we sought to create a unique platform for international technological cooperation though a weekend-long event hosted in multiple locations across the world. We didn’t just focus on developing software apps, but actually included open hardware, citizen science, and data visualization as well.”
Aspects of that answer will please many open data advocates, like Clay Johnson or David Eaves. When Eaves recently looked at apps contests, in the context of his work on Open Data Day (coming up on February 23rd), he emphasized the importance of events that build community and applications that meet the needs of citizens or respond to business demand.
The rest of my email interview with Skytland follows. Read more…
The Curiosity rover marked its Mars landing with a small photo. Think about all the work that went into that one shot.
Last night, I stayed up late to watch the NASA livestream of the Curiosity rover landing. It seems to have been an unmitigated success: each step of the entry and landing process, even that crazy sky-crane maneuver, was performed flawlessly.
As Travis Beacham put it on Twitter:
A jet-fired hover crane just lowered a nuclear robot bigger than my car onto Mars. Then it emailed us pics, from the other side of the sun.
— Travis Beacham (@travisbeacham) August 6, 2012
Although there were tearful hugs and high-fives and all manner of cheering when “Touchdown!” was called, the wonderment built to a real climax when the first thumbnail image came through. It was small, in black and white, and showed the Martian horizon in the background, with the wheel of the rover in the foreground.
Shortly thereafter, a slightly larger version was displayed: still black and white, but with enough resolution to show dust on the glass. A second one followed a few minutes later, showing the rover’s shadow on the ground. Cue the “pics or it didn’t happen” jokes, as well as the rapid proliferation of Photoshopped spoofs.
One of the first images from the Curiosity rover.
In our micro-culture of the moment, obsessed with photo sharing and images, this tiny thumbnail still seemed like a miracle (albeit a required one). A picture really is worth a whole lot of words. But have you ever stopped to think about what it takes to plan for that from Mars?
Tired of waiting, hackers and billionaires alike are building the future they want to see.
We may be living in the future, but it hasn’t entirely worked out how we were promised. I remember the predictions clearly: the 21st century was supposed to be full of self-driving cars, personal communicators, replicators and private space ships.
Except, of course, all that has come true. Google just got the first license to drive their cars entirely autonomously on public highways. Apple came along with the iPhone and changed everything. Three-dimensional printers have come out of the laboratories and into the home. And in a few short years, and from a standing start, Elon Musk and SpaceX has achieved what might otherwise have been thought impossible: late last year, SpaceX launched a spacecraft and returned it to Earth safely. Then they launched another, successfully docked it with the International Space Station, and then again returned it to Earth.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule is grappled and berthed to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 12:02 p.m. EDT, May 25, 2012. Credit: NASA/SpaceX
Right now there is a generation of high-tech tinkerers breaking the seals on proprietary technology and prototyping new ideas, which is leading to a rapid growth in innovation. The members of this generation, who are building open hardware instead of writing open software, seem to have come out of nowhere. Except, of course, they haven’t. Promised a future they couldn’t have, they’ve started to build it. The only difference between them and Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Steve Jobs is that those guys got to build bigger toys than the rest of us.
The dotcom billionaires are regular geeks just like us. They might be the best of us, or sometimes just the luckiest, but they grew up with the same dreams, and they’ve finally given up waiting for governments to build the future they were promised when they were kids. They’re going to build it for themselves.
The first NASA Open Source Summit highlighted policy and progress.
NASA's commitment to open source and its gameplan for open government were discussed at the recent NASA Open Source Summit. Here's a look at the open source issues and opportunities the agency faces.
The first challenge: create kits that can be built in a classroom and sent on-board suborbital flights.
If you are fascinated by space, it's a great time for you to be able to do something as a maker and make a real contribution. Makers can now participate in a new kind of space program, one that expands beyond NASA to include commercial space collaboration.
The final frontier is now open to amateurs.
The space race has been reignited, but in a much different way. With off-the-shelf components and your own initiative, you can now launch a satellite or weather balloon. Dale Dougherty looks at this new wave of roll-your-own exploration.