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Java Runs NASA Mars Rovers

Java Runs NASA Mars Rovers

When the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, successfully landed on Mars on January 3, 2004, Java was there too. The Mars Rovers devices, developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in conjunction with Wind River, use the Java platform as a low-cost, easy-to-use option for the program controlling the Rovers' operating system.

Why Java? James Gosling, JPL advisory board member and "Father of Java," explains that it's due to Java's ability to transcend many platforms. "They can have scientists all over the world looking at the data but collaboratively deciding on the way the mission should proceed," said Gosling. "They are all speaking different languages when they talk to the rover but everybody in the control room is using Java."

Spirit is sending as much as 150 megabits of data daily to NASA scientists, and that datastream will increase when the sister rover, Opportunity, lands on January 24. To deal with this data, Sun Microsystems and NASA built four operational storage servers at the JPL that altogether can hold four terabytes of data.

The Java program used on the robotic rovers is nearly identical to the JPL's online program Maestro that allows site visitors to guide a simulated rover across a 3-D Martian terrain. (To try out the Java-based data browser Maestro and drive a simulated dune buggy on Mars, see http://mars.telascience.org/.)

Java's journey to Mars began nearly ten years ago, when JPL scientists began experimenting with Java as a language for the command and control system for the 1995 Mars Sojourner. When the JPL team brought their work to Sun Microsystems' attention, James Gosling, father of Java, became intrigued, and spent so much time at the Pasadena space lab that he became an advisory board member. "They (the JPL team) are doing things that people think are science fiction," said Gosling. "It's a place to have your mind blown." (See James Gosling's weblog for more of his comments on the Mars Rovers.)

The Spirit is one of two twin robot geologists running on Wind River's real-time operating system (RTOS), VxWorks. The second twin, Opportunity, is scheduled to land on Mars on January 24, 2004. On Mars, Spirit will perform complex tasks, such as trajectory, descent and ground operations control, data collection, and Mars-to-Earth communication relay.

In addition to powering the Mars Rovers, Wind River's technology also operates within NASA JPL's Stardust spacecraft. Stardust is the first United States space mission dedicated solely to the exploration of a comet, named Wild 2, and the first robotic mission designed to return extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the Moon. This month, Stardust will complete its four-year journey from Earth, arriving within 100 kilometers of the speeding nucleus of Wild 2 to collect dust samples from the comet's tail in order to help answer fundamental questions regarding the origins of the solar system. Wind River's VxWorks RTOS is responsible for Stardust's flight trajectory and path, the collection of interstellar dust and cometary material, the journey back to Earth, and the safe landing of the return capsule.

The Mars Exploration Rovers and the Stardust missions are part of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's lead center for robotic exploration of the solar system, which is managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA. To learn more about Mars Exploration Rovers, go to marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/. To learn more about Stardust, go to stardust.jpl.nasa.gov.

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Most Recent Comments
Gilster 10/11/04 01:58:44 AM EDT

Alex, looks like you haven't bothered to even learn Java and therefore, wouldn't have any idea on how to code in other languages too; Java Rocks.
Java Thread dumps are often cause by inexperienced coders like yourself!

JBR 02/01/04 11:39:38 PM EST

Interesting and exciting news about JAVA.yah, JAVA is conquering all.....

Alex 01/29/04 07:59:01 AM EST

Hey, SYS-CON editors where is your new headline story
"Java DON''T RUN NASA Mars Rovers. Java Anywhere is a Fiction."?

A MER GDS Developer 01/28/04 07:40:37 PM EST

To set the record straight... There is absolutely no Java running onboard the MER rovers. The flight software is all written in C for vxWorks, with possibly a tiny bit of assembly language. The MER project does run Java in several key places on the ground. The ground data system has software written in a variety of languages. I''ve seen Fortran, C, C++, Perl, Python, and Java.

Alex 01/27/04 08:17:52 AM EST

"The U.K.''''s Beagle 2 apparently was running .Net. One can imagine it up there on Mars, showing a Blue Screen of Death." :)
No Guesses. Java proudly crash and producing thread dumps. Java don''t need those "blue screens", it proudly crash without them.
The only strange thing - why statements "Java on the Mars" and "Software crashed" always appear in different press releases. Why not proudly announce - "Java crashed on the Mars", or "Write once, crash everywhere".

Fred N 01/25/04 02:04:21 PM EST

Being as risk adverse as JPL is, I''d be surprised they would put something as complex as a Java virtual machine on top of a flat memory operating system, even though this configuration can be found in many embedded computer environments. It is bad enough that memory corruption and other hardware issues can bring down a flat memory operating system much more easily than a memory protected operating system where the application effected by the hardware can be contained and diagnosted by the stable, secure os kernel. But to add in a complex Java virtual machine in there too is asking for trouble.

David Crocket 01/23/04 05:27:19 PM EST

Raj Upadhyaya, you beat me to it. If that is Java''s version of a BSOD, it appears more complex. And Greg, its "Write once, tweak everywhere".


Raj Upadhyaya 01/22/04 09:03:49 PM EST

Last message received from Mars Rover.

Full thread dump:
"Thread-5" (TID:0xee703b78, sys_thread_t:0xee261db8, state:R) prio=5
"Thread-4" (TID:0xee703bb8, sys_thread_t:0xee291db8, state:R) prio=5 *current thread*
"Finalizer thread" (TID:0xee700220, sys_thread_t:0xee2c1d b8, state:R) prio=1
"Async Garbage Collector" (TID:0xee700268, sys_thread_t:0 xee2f1db8, state:R) prio=1
"Idle thread" (TID:0xee7002b0, sys_thread_t:0xee3c1db8, state:R) prio=0
"Clock" (TID:0xee700088, sys_thread_t:0xee3f1db8, state:CW) prio=12
"main" (TID:0xee7000b0, sys_thread_t:0x693a0, state:CW) prio=5
Monitor Cache Dump:
[email protected]/EE74E190: owner "Thread-4" (0xee291db8, 1 entry)
[email protected]/EE74E270: owner "Thread-5" (0xee261db8, 1 entry)
Waiting to be notified:
"main" (0x693a0)
Registered Monitor Dump:
Thread queue lock:
Name and type hash table lock:
String intern lock:
JNI pinning lock:
JNI global reference lock:
BinClass lock:
Class loading lock:
Java stack lock:
Code rewrite lock:
Heap lock:
Has finalization queue lock:
Finalize me queue lock:
Monitor IO lock:
Child death monitor:
Event monitor:
I/O monitor:
Alarm monitor:
Waiting to be notified:
"Clock" (0xee3f1db8)
Sbrk lock:
Monitor registry: owner "Thread-4" (0xee291db8, 1 entry)
Thread Alarm Q:
sys_thread_t 0x693a0 [Timeout in 9997374 ms]

Ron Hitchens 01/20/04 08:28:47 PM EST

Hmm. I''ve seen Dr. Gosling speak several times in the last few months and he always talks about his involvment with the Mars Rover project. He also always says that while Java is employed extensively by the ground systems there''s no Java onboard the rover itself. Have we gotten a little ahead of ourselves here?

Greg Granato 01/20/04 10:21:01 AM EST

More evidence of "Write once, run anywhere".

Tyrone Hed 01/20/04 09:03:57 AM EST

The U.K.''s Beagle 2 apparently was running .Net. One can imagine it up there on Mars, showing a Blue Screen of Death.

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