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11/3/2010
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NASA Leverages Amazon Cloud For Mars Rover

The agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is using virtual computing environment to run custom software to plan the vehicle's daily activities.




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NASA's Mars Rover project is working with Amazon.com to use cloud computing to power the daily operations of the Rover -- the first agency mission to handle daily operations via the cloud.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which runs the Rover project, has moved custom daily activity-planning software it developed, called Maestro, over to Amazon's cloud, according to a NASA press statement.

The JPL said the pay-as-you-go nature of cloud computing and past success NASA has had using it for other projects spurred it to work with Amazon.com to manage the Rover's daily operations via the cloud.

The Rover project also is "well suited" for cloud computing because of the collaborative nature of the work, according to NASA. NASA can send data to geographically dispersed users based on their location, rather than having to send information from a centralized server, speeding up workflow, the agency said.

NASA currently has two rovers on Mars -- Spirit and Opportunity – but only Opportunity is engaged in active mission duties. Spirit has not been active since March 2010; NASA engineers believe the vehicle is in low-power hibernation mode

While federal agencies across the board are experimenting with cloud computing, NASA's investment in it has been the most significant to date.

NASA has even developed its own internal cloud, called Nebula, and will soon make the platform available for all federal agencies to use via its NASA Cloud Services.

NASA chose not to use its own cloud for the Mars Rover project because it has had more time to "evaluate the worldwide reach of Amazon than Nebula so far," said Tomas Soderstrom, chief technology officer for the JPL's Office of the Chief Information Officer, via e-mail.

He added that the JPL is evaluating Nebula for future internal use.

When it uses third-party cloud offerings, NASA so far has remained vendor-neutral. While the JPL is using Amazon for the Rover mission, NASA chose Microsoft's cloud computing platform for its Be a Martian project, an educational website allowing students to view Mars imagery in an interactive environment.

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