How Cloud Computing Is Helping The Mission To Mars


In space, no one can hear you scream. Although you can wirelessly save backups of your digital photos and documents; so it’s not all bad.

On the 6th of August 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory mission landed its robotic space probe Curiosity safely on Mars, successfully completing another stage of the 2.5 billion dollar project, and moving further toward the goal of discovering the inhabitable and environmental history of the red planet. Curiosity is part of the first astrobiology mission since the 1970’s, with its on-board scientific prowess enough to rival Archimedes’ garden shed , the six wheeled Rover has a number of long term goals and objectives, studying the climate and geology of the planet and determining whether or not it could have supported life. It’s our own space-faring lab-on-wheels scientist. Wonder what the locals will make of him.

After touching down and gathering its thoughts, beginning health checks and presumably trying to work out how it ended up on Mars, Curiosity began taking high definition colour pictures and sending them back to Earth, making history and delivering a level of detail from its numerous cameras that has not been seen in the past. Most recently, we received an incredible 360 degree panorama from the Rover’s position; the rocky, red expanse is exhilarating to ponder.

But how’re we receiving all these glorious high definition images? The Royal Mail haven’t expanded their reach to space just yet, and lets face it, if it had, we wouldn’t receive any postcards until three weeks after it got back.  The answer is, of course, The Cloud. Cloud computing is the delivery of digital storage and computing facilities over a network. Apple’s popular iCloud service allows for the seamless and automated sharing and backing up of files between devices over your network. With personal files and folders available in the Cloud, this infrastructure is undoubtedly the future of computing technology, with video games and movie services already existing solely within the Cloud!

So how has The Cloud helped the mission to Mars?

You may have considered Amazon merely to be reliable and affordable suppliers of your next copy of 50 Shades of the Harry Potter Code, however it is their own Amazon Web Services cloud that has enabled Curiosity to be so effective.
Never before has cloud computing been used to such a practical and wide-scale effect, with NASA adopting the services of the Cloud and taking them to new heights. Literally.

Manager for data services Khawaja Shams said “At this point, JPL’s (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) data centres are filled to capacity, so we’re looking for ways to cost effectively expand the computational horsepower that we have at our disposal; Cloud computing is giving us that opportunity.”

The speed and efficiency of the system has allowed NASA’s team to construct a fully operational web infrastructure in a matter of weeks, as opposed to the months such a system would ordinarily require. Not only that but AWS is handling the huge scale of the data processing, allowing for the servicing of hundreds of gigabits a second to an incalculable amount of traffic, getting the images and data sent out to the public as soon as possible.

This exponential use of the Cloud to do something so defining will undoubtedly lead to a strengthening in the stability of public cloud services allowing new developments in the area to shine through. With its advantages being used across many aspects of business and home computing already, the future is, as ever, incredibly bright, and who knows what will happen next, both for Curiosity, our brave and noble, metallic explorer-scientist, and, back on Earth, for the Cloud and its applications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *