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After the Moon, there’s Mars

DaveDavies

Of all the technologies NASA developed further as part of their Apollo programme to get to the Moon by the end of 1970, for me the key one was “Telemetry”.

You see, you couldn’t get all the needed smartest people into that capsule in one go…plus they then didn’t have the needed “Test Pilot” skills. Just about room for three tightly packed astronauts in the Command Module (and only two of them for the Lunar Module) was all that would fit.

So these clever people had to accompany the astronauts in another way – as a virtual journey. All aspects of information regarding the health, speed, direction and attitude of the spacecraft had to be continually measured and transmitted over radio back to Mission Control in Houston. They did have an on-board computer (no smarter than a digital watch) to help with the precise timing of the critical burns, but that was it…and in Houston these Mission Specialists occasionally used Slide Rules too to help with any recalculations for what-if scenarios.

Any necessary changes to the operation of the spacecraft were radioed back to the crew verbally for them to execute (there was very little automation). At worst there was a three second turn around in time between conversations, which was tolerable, but only just.

Picture-Telemetry-Receiving-Station.jpgTelemetry Receiving StationTelemetry was a good method for going to the Moon. But, what about a journey to Mars?

Communication-wise, Mars is a 25min round trip…telemetry isn’t going to work. By the time issues are detected and Mission Control notified, it’s most likely too late. The Crew and the Spaceship are going to have to have much greater autonomy with regards to their safety and mission execution. Real-time diagnosis and adjustments will have to happen within seconds of criticality.

All major devices will need to be able to report on their condition, sense the immediate environment and take action autonomously where needed, plus accept commands given to them from a higher level. Sounds like Internet of Things (IoT) doesn’t it?

NASA have always known about this time delay, and have given autonomy to their Rovers such as “Opportunity” and “Curiosity”. They instruct the Rover to head to a coordinate (such as the side of a crater), but now the Rover itself determines the optimal route for success and will constantly recalculate as and when it comes up to an obstacle it cannot simply drive over. There isn’t a chap with a joystick at Mission Control for this! It’s just not practical.

Telemetry was the forerunner to IoT in that sensing data was brought back to Mission Control for analysis and remedial actions radioed back to the crew. Now with IoT, the data can be analysed at the place it’s created (we call it Edge Computing), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) learns to help make real time actionable corrections for the Rover on Mars or the Spacecraft traveling to Mars.

Telemetry got us to the Moon but IoT, AI and Autonomous Edge Computing will get us to Mars.

We at HPE build world class Intelligent edge devices for data aggregation analysis and insights. Designed for the extreme edge environments, outside of the traditional datacentre, and built to integrate with modern and legacy platform devices. We partner with the best in industry software developers and integration specialists to provide world class solutions in the fields of IoT and AI for our clients. Obviously space travel is the most extreme use case; there are also a myriad of more mundane use cases that benefit and enhance our lives here on Earth. We help you save money, or make money.

….but back to Mars….we are most likely going to need High Performance Computing in the Spaceship for the even greater complexity required …Oh, and we at HPE are already developing the proof points for that too.


Dave Davies
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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About the Author

DaveDavies

Chief Technologist - Large Enterprise Accounts

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