NASA Takes Cloud on Mars Mission

By Nicole Hemsoth

November 8, 2010

Last week NASA announced that its Mars Exploration Rover Project has been the first space agency mission to use cloud resources for daily operations. According to reports from NASA, the cloud is being used to access the software and data that the flight team uses to manage their daily plans for the rover’s activities.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who manage the mission worked with members of Amazon Web Services team at both the planning and implementation stages in conjunction with the JPL team who built the rover’s daily activity-planning software, which is called Maestro.

JPL CIO, Tomas Soderstrom admitted in a recent release that his team has been working with a number of cloud vendors since 2007 to find the best ways to take advantage of cloud computing and that the agency set forth to “pragmatically look past the hype about cloud computing to find the practical, cost-efficient real mission applications.”

With the readily-available NASA Nebula cloud resource officially at the disposal of the agency following the recent announcement of NASA Cloud Services, one has to wonder why the JPL decided on using an external cloud services provider. Soderstrom, in an interview with Information Week, noted that the agency decided not to use its own cloud for the Rover project because “it has had more time to evaluate the worldwide reach of Amazon than Nebula so far” but that the JPL would indeed evaluate the use of Nebula for coming projects. 

A Mission Well-Suited for Cloud

As it stands, there are two rovers on the surface of Mars—Spirit and Opportunity—but at this point, only Opportunity is on duty since Spirit went into low-power hibernation mode in March. Originally, these were planned as three-month missions but as the program has grown, extended missions have been added, which means there is far more data than researchers initially planned for when initially considering expected capacity.

Since the mission has been extended far past what NASA engineers anticipated, the volume of data has outgrown the systems that were put into place to handle it. Khawaja Shames, a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noted that using the cloud means that the team’s mission is no longer bound by these restrictions, which is one element that made cloud computing an attractive option back in 2007 when the team started to scan for options.

Interestingly, the reasons that drove the decision to adopt cloud computing for these particular needs are not so different than those that inspire enterprise organizations to consider making the move to remote resources. For one thing, the JPL was facing a decision about either building out its current infrastructure to handle the unexpected increase in data following the move to extend the mission.

Project Manager for the Mars Rover project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, John Callas, remarked “when we need more computing capacity, we don’t need to install more servers if we can rent more capacity from the cloud for just the time we need it. This way we don’t waste electricity and air conditioning with servers idling waiting to be used and we don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance and operating system obsolescence.”

In addition to being a good fit due to the unexpected demands for storage and compute capacity, Shames also noted that the cloud is well-suited for this project because of the added boost it gives to the collaborative efforts that keep the project going.  In his view, using the cloud means that these disparate contributors to the mission are able to share information in near real-time.

Before the agency adopted the model, members of the Rover team had to send data to users who were geographically scattered based on their location versus sending the data from a central location, which sped up workflow—an important factor in the overall sense of satisfaction with the fit of cloud as strategy to improve operations. 

JPL on Cutting Edge of Cloud

NASA’s JPL has been among the early adopters of cloud computing, although in somewhat different contexts, for a number of years. For instance, the JPL formed a partnership with Google in which the NASA researchers used Google’s resources to develop an educational application that allowed elementary students to tag and label images from the spacecraft.

The JPL also formed a partnership between Microsoft and the JPL called “Be a Martian,” which came into play in 2009. This project, which can be found at uses its 54,000 users who analyze data to help improve the Mars mapping projects as well as aid in other research endeavors.

While the JPL’s use of Amazon as its primary resource has occurred in part because the need for a solution came far before the agency was able to fully evaluate what Nebula would have to offer, there is a clear effort on the part of NASA to remain vendor-neutral when making decisions. Given its partnerships with Microsoft and Google before this foray into Amazon, it does seem clear that the agency is willing to give vendors a fair shake if they have services to offer that are ideally suited for their projects.

The Bigger Picture for Clouds in Government

As a release from the JPL noted early this week, “The extended missions of Spirit and Opportunity have provided a resource for testing innovations during an active space mission for possible use in future missions. New software uploads giving the rovers added autonomy have been one example, and cloud computing is another…JPL is currently building and testing NASA’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, for launch in late 2011 in the Mars Science Laboratory mission.”

One can only imagine that if all goes well in this cloud, it will be a central feature during the Curiosity mission as well.

Out of all agencies and departments in the United States government, there has yet been no parallel to NASA’s efforts in exploring and providing a research commitment to cloud computing. Between Nebula, which is its own internal cloud that will soon be opened to other agencies, and its practical implementation of other cloud-driven research projects, NASA is setting the trend for cloud adoption for government agency research.

While granted, the agency might not face some of the security hurdles that other agencies that have massive privacy and security restrictions, at least in terms of this particular project, this is nonetheless demonstrating that the cloud can be a cost-effective solution to handle peak loads and problems that occur when data outgrows the systems meant to handle it.

Cloud computing has been making a stronger appearance in releases from governments worldwide, but in the United States, adoption has been slow yet steady as benchmarking and authorization procedures to mitigate security concerns continue to add delays.

Thus far, outside of the General Services Administration (GSA) clouds have been discussed to death but are still in the mid-implementation stages. NASA, however, has taken a proactive approach with its Nebula resource and now, with a growing number of users adopting it for research uses and the utilization of Amazon, Microsoft and other cloud services resources, news from government agencies containing actual cloud use studies is expected to start trickling in at a faster pace—a good sign for those who advocate cloud adoption for research and government agencies.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

NSF Project Sets Up First Machine Learning Cyberinfrastructure – CHASE-CI

July 25, 2017

Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation issued a $1 million grant to Larry Smarr, director of Calit2, and a group of his colleagues to create a community infrastructure in support of machine learning research Read more…

By John Russell

DARPA Continues Investment in Post-Moore’s Technologies

July 24, 2017

The U.S. military long ago ceded dominance in electronics innovation to Silicon Valley, the DoD-backed powerhouse that has driven microelectronic generation for decades. With Moore's Law clearly running out of steam, the Read more…

By George Leopold

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in 2017 with scale-up production for enterprise datacenters and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Servers Deliver High Performance Remote Visualization

Whether generating seismic simulations, locating new productive oil reservoirs, or constructing complex models of the earth’s subsurface, energy, oil, and gas (EO&G) is a highly data-driven industry. Read more…

Trinity Supercomputer’s Haswell and KNL Partitions Are Merged

July 19, 2017

Trinity supercomputer’s two partitions – one based on Intel Xeon Haswell processors and the other on Xeon Phi Knights Landing – have been fully integrated are now available for use on classified work in the Nationa Read more…

By HPCwire Staff

NSF Project Sets Up First Machine Learning Cyberinfrastructure – CHASE-CI

July 25, 2017

Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation issued a $1 million grant to Larry Smarr, director of Calit2, and a group of his colleagues to create a comm Read more…

By John Russell

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Continues HPC, AI Push

July 19, 2017

Summer is well under way, but the so-called summertime slowdown, linked with hot temperatures and longer vacations, does not seem to have impacted Fujitsu's out Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Use DNA to Store and Retrieve Digital Movie

July 18, 2017

From abacus to pencil and paper to semiconductor chips, the technology of computing has always been an ever-changing target. The human brain is probably the com Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale FY18 Budget – The Next Step

July 17, 2017

On July 12, 2017, the U.S. federal budget for its Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI) took its next step forward. On that day, the full Appropriations Committee Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Women in HPC Luncheon Shines Light on Female-Friendly Hiring Practices

July 13, 2017

The second annual Women in HPC luncheon was held on June 20, 2017, during the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. The luncheon provid Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Satellite Advances, NSF Computation Power Rapid Mapping of Earth’s Surface

July 13, 2017

New satellite technologies have completely changed the game in mapping and geographical data gathering, reducing costs and placing a new emphasis on time series Read more…

By Ken Chiacchia and Tiffany Jolley

Intel Skylake: Xeon Goes from Chip to Platform

July 13, 2017

With yesterday’s New York unveiling of the new “Skylake” Xeon Scalable processors, Intel made multiple runs at multiple competitive threats and strategic Read more…

By Doug Black

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Facebook Open Sources Caffe2; Nvidia, Intel Rush to Optimize

April 18, 2017

From its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Facebook announced Caffe2, a new open-source, cross-platform framework for deep learning. Caffe2 is the successor to Caffe, the deep learning framework developed by Berkeley AI Research and community contributors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This