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Open Standards Planned For Next NASA Telescope 63

Posted by Zonk
from the no-meters-feet-mixup-this-time dept.
BobB writes "A NASA infrared space telescope called the 'James Web Space Telescope' is scheduled to be launched in 2013. The plan is that it will be built using open standards-based software designed to prevent problems caused when software programs developed by various agencies are incompatible with each other, as has been the case with the Hubble telescope. From the article: 'Though open standards has become common in the business sector, Matthews says this is the first time NASA has used the IBM Rational system. "This is a fairly major shift in approach for NASA," he says. "They traditionally have been very conservative in their adoption of new technologies and new tools, but I think they've found that conservative approach just doesn't hold up when you start to reach a [certain] size and complexity."'"
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Open Standards Planned For Next NASA Telescope

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  • by davidwr (791652) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @07:54PM (#17697832) Homepage Journal
    I was all set to make a "Universe-Wide-Web" joke then I checked the spelling.

    Fixing this typo is a job for your friendly neighborhood slashdot-editor-man.
  • by RandomPsychology (932636) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @07:55PM (#17697846) Homepage
    ...because initially, MS went for the bid (attempting to dominate the space business), but NASA has (apparently) gotten wiser and moved away from satellites that BSOD at random.
  • yes.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @08:01PM (#17697898) Homepage
    This is a fairly major shift in approach for NASA," he says. "They traditionally have been very conservative in their adoption of new technologies and new tools, but I think they've found that conservative approach just doesn't hold up when you start to reach a [certain] size and complexity.

    Yes, complexity, like converting english measurements to metric.
    • and Quantity (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Astronomers possibly would love a cluster of space telescopes. Amongst other heavenly bodies the discovery of new planets might well skyrocket as difference in images is analyzed constantly and continuously. Imagine on earth a spherical planetarium with the collective view of all those telescopes displayed with all items not in previous database marked in some fashion for study and possible naming other then the automatic naming necessary by the computer system to add the new sighting to the database. This
    • Re:yes.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 20, 2007 @08:55PM (#17698206)
      but I think they've found that conservative approach just doesn't hold up when you start to reach a [certain] size and complexity.

      Yeah, NASA has no experience working with complexity. The Apollo spacecraft and the Space Shuttle are just so primitive compared to a new Ford truck with Microsoft auto software.

      Or it might just be that NASA realizes that a slow evolutionary change of their systems is better than a revolutionary change that is 50% more efficient but blows a rocket up.

      This change to open standards follows that. NASA first found something that worked and now they are slowly adjusting it. 'Conservative' may be a bad word in politics (for some), but it is a very good word in engineering. To most engineers I know, being called a non-conservative engineer is the same thing as being called an idiot.
      • I agree (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wasted (94866) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @11:56PM (#17699190)
        but I think they've found that conservative approach just doesn't hold up when you start to reach a [certain] size and complexity.


        Yeah, NASA has no experience working with complexity. The Apollo spacecraft and the Space Shuttle are just so primitive compared to a new Ford truck with Microsoft auto software.

        Or it might just be that NASA realizes that a slow evolutionary change of their systems is better than a revolutionary change that is 50% more efficient but blows a rocket up.

        Knowing one or two folks who work for NASA, and having met more than that, I think that they would move toward open source so it can be peer reviewed, which would result in the evolutionary change. Of the people I have met, the average IT staffer troubleshooting Word installations is way more conceited than any of the shuttle astronauts I have met. (About five that I know of, and probably at least a couple more, not that it matters.) NASA folks work to accomplish a mission, and their egos are pretty much non-existant except in the context that they have been part of the team that accomplished a specific mission. If John Doe off of the street offers an optimal solution, they will grab it, test the heck out of it, and use it if it works. Then, after the successful mission, they can say, "I was a part of that" when it comes up at cocktail parties.

        Then again, I may have only met the best of NASA, and others who work there may have a better grasp on their corporate culture.
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        Sarcasm on: Yeah, NASA has no experience working with complexity. The Apollo spacecraft and the Space Shuttle are just so primitive compared to a new Ford truck with Microsoft auto software.

        Let's compare..

        The Apollo on board computer had a grand total of 4k of memory. That included the guidance system to land on the moon. I doubt Microsoft could write 'hello world' in 4k.

        The space shuttle has 10 milliion lines on code in the onboard computers, and has enough smarts to land from orbit completely automat

    • Re:yes.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Sunday January 21, 2007 @12:29AM (#17699394) Homepage Journal
      Major shift? Conservative? This is the same NASA that broadcast NASA Select over CU-SeeMe and also the Multibone, allowed Donald Becker to develop network drivers for Linux, opened the source of a great many Computational Fluid Dynamics packages, promoted the early development of Beowulf Clusters, published guidelines on how to identify barbarian invaders, has hosted talks by SETI folks, investigated AJAX-style applications in the mid 1990s and was routinely helping the Open Source community years before any business would go near it?

      Now, I think they make some extremely stupid decisions at times. I think that half their management is an extreme liability to their operations, the safety of their astronauts and the quality of their science. I also think they are desperately underfunded and have developed something of a siege mentality. However, "conservative" is not a term I'd associate with them, and they are most certainly familiar with "Open Standards" - having either invented them or were early adopters.

      This is merely where they should have been all along, based on their own practices and their own connections with the IT industry. Far from calling it revolutionary, I'd consider it merely evolutionary.

      • ...published guidelines on how to identify barbarian invaders

        What in the name of the nine+ worlds of Sol are you talking about?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jd (1658)
          This gem [paulgazis.com] first appeared on NASA AMES' webserver. It got featured on Slashdot at the time. After AMES was rebuilt from the wreckage left after their webserver exploded, all copies at NASA were purged. However, the Slashdot archives include the original link and writeup, so proof does exist that this truly is a NASA document.
          • That's hilarious. Although... If the webserver was in building 245, there may be a DARC-820AD or an FF-1066AD floating around that could explain why the server "exploded".
  • Bet (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by The Dobber (576407)
    Five bucks says this system never sees the light of day. Already way over budget.
  • by Indigo (2453)
    JWST to use Rational Rose, film at 11.
  • by amightywind (691887) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @08:42PM (#17698124) Journal

    I used Rational Rose in a large avionics project. I can honestly say it is the worst piece of software I have ever encountered. This push comes from the suits at NASA glad handing their buddies at IBM. It cannot come from the programmers.

    • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @09:10PM (#17698286) Homepage

      I used Rational Rose in a large avionics project. I can honestly say it is the worst piece of software I have ever encountered.

      I'll second that. Worked next to a project that was built in four months by two primary programmers, a DBA and two analysts. The customer brought EDS in to take over long term maintenance and they wanted to move everything over to Rational for managing change requests. Today there are 30 people on the project and what used to take hours now takes months. Where they used to spend 10's of thousands they now spend 100's of thousands.

      They brought in EDS because they didn't think they were getting good value from the team that built the original application.

      Rule 1: Forget Rational

      Rule 2: Never give a working application to EDS.

    • by Utopia (149375) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @09:32PM (#17698362)
      I agree.

      Having worked with Rational Rose I can that if NASA is using Rational then the "major shift" is in the wrong direction.
      I had to use Rational because of a push from management for a company-wide use of Rational.
      A really bad decision in opinion. Too many bugs and clunky workflow makes the software utter crap.

    • by Curlsman (1041022)
      Looks like automated CYA. After woking at NASA mid '80s, being good at CYA is how people get promoted into management,
      who stay there unchangeable until they die. Good engineers get screwed or transfered to no-where projects that get canceled.

      I'm not good at CYA...but I guess that's a personal problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by feronti (413011)
      I definitely have to agree about Rose. I can't speak to XDE (or whatever they call it now), but RealTime sucks goat balls, at least if you're developing in C++. First, if you want to use the STL, you have to add it to the model yourself (granted, that's a problem with pretty much every model-driven development tool... you'd think it'd occur to someone that they should include models for standard libraries). Unfortunately, their code analysis tool sucks, so if you try to use that to reverse engineer the libr
      • Why is it that software developed for people who develop software is often total crap? You'd think that if there could be only one type of software that was reliable, reasonably featured and easy to use, developmers' tools would be it. Maybe that old proverb that the barefoot child is the cobbler's son has some basis in fact...
  • Ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @09:02PM (#17698240) Homepage Journal
    "They traditionally have been very conservative in their adoption of new technologies and new tools"

    That's an exceptionally ironic statement to make about an organization responsible for space exploration.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Indigo (2453)
      It does sound pretty funny, but in the specific context of flight software, it's true. When sending something complicated and expensive into space, you don't want it running bleeding edge code. You want to stick to the tried and true, even boring, stuff. Granted, there are missions that push the software envelope, but for those missions it's done deliberately and treated as a risk, not just because someone doesn't want to seem old fashioned.
    • "They traditionally have been very conservative in their adoption of new technologies and new tools"

      That's an exceptionally ironic statement to make about an organization responsible for space exploration.

      It's only ironic if your only contact with space science and technology is via NASA PR. In reality, NASA *is* highly conservative - 'new' technologies only fly after extensive qualification and testing. (By which point they aren't really 'new'.) NASA qualifies new materials for use in space flight ex

    • That's an exceptionally ironic statement to make about an organization responsible for space exploration.
      no its not really, space exploration is HARD, fixing things in space is EVEN HARDER, a small fault can DOOM A MISSION and if the mission is manned KILL THE CREW (especially if it takes place during the crucial liftoff and landing phases).

      so once you have a system that works you don't take making major changes to it lightly, any benifits of a new system have to be balanced carefully against the risk it po
  • Rational Rose is open standards software... how? Because it outputs UML? Seriously? Someone please tell me I'm missing something here.
  • NASA seems to be pretty good about sharing space telescope images with the public, so don't view this as a complaint, but could open source become open access? Looking at a live feed on your computer?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)
      Because "live feeds" from the Hubble would look like digital noise. It's NOT a web cam. The ground controllers send up very specific commands for the satellite to do very specific things. It acquires the data and transmits it back, then the data has to be analyzed carefully. Much of it isn't even imagery - just numbers. I have no idea exactly what format the data comes down in, but it's not going to be a .jpg.
  • The plan is that [the satellite] will be built using open standards-based software designed to prevent problems caused when software programs developed by various agencies are incompatible with each other

    Whoa! That means that they'll no longer be able to leverage the power of Microsoft Access on board the satellite. I don't know if they thought this one through... I know, I'll call my congressman and let him know that a law should be passed requiring MS-Access on all NASA devices. That'll save tons of taxpayer money. You should call your congressman on this one too.

  • Interesting spin job (Score:5, Informative)

    by wrmrxxx (696969) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @10:17PM (#17698624)
    The decision to buy IBM's product is being spinned by this article as if it's some kind of win for open standards, but there isn't anything significantly open going on here. As far as I can tell, they've adopted Rational Rose for diagramming/design and Clearcase for version control. Both of these products are closed source applications, and both store their data in closed, priority formats. There's nothing open about either of them. The best you could say is that NASA is using an open modelling language (UML), but of course that exists entirely independantly of the IBM product - I can use UML with a pencil and the back of an envelope.

    If NASA really wanted to do something for openness (and delivering American taxpayers value for money), they'd be using Subversion, not ClearCase.

    Both Rational and ClearCase are examples of the worst in their category of software. I've used many types of version control software, but ClearCase was the worst of all by far. This software was not purchased because NASA was particularly interested in open standards. Rational and ClearCase usually only get purchased because some manager had a very successful golf game with an IBM rep or still reasons that "nobody ever got fired for purchasing IBM".

    • by wrmrxxx (696969)
      and both store their data in closed, priority formats

      Oops. Obviously I meant to say "proprietary", not "priority". Now we see just how much brain damage I have suffered from using ClearCase for a while.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I disagree with you. ClearCase is not the worst in its category. This is not true.
      Hell, it's so bad it warrants a category on its own.
    • by feronti (413011)
      Someone who thinks Clearcase is the worst example of configuration management software has obviously never used CMSynergy. Maybe it's just the way our CM group have things set up, but I find it gets in the way more than any other CM system I've used.
    • by iso-cop (555637)
      The article is very much mislabeled. What has been done is that everyone on JWST is being made to use Rational Rose, so that there is one set of development tools that work together. Hubble instruments are only made to conform to an interface protocol for communication, so there are a bunch of different compilers and various other tools needed to handle updates. The "open" part is that all of the developers can see one another's models, which happen to be in UML.
  • I recommend Ice [zeroc.com].
  • The last time NASA use two different measurement systems on the same project, the probe bounced off the Martian atmosphere.
  • All parts will be metric so the entire world can understand them!
  • Matthews is wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 20, 2007 @11:55PM (#17699186)
    I worked on multiple NASA projects in the 1990s. During the mid-90s we used Rational http://www-306.ibm.com/software/rational/ [ibm.com] for a short period of time (6 months) then dropped it. IME, the people who want these tools are architect that couldn't program their way out of a paper bag. Since Ive become an architect now, I prefer Visio http://www.microsoft.com/office/visio/ [microsoft.com] to most of these other tools - that's only if a pencil drawing doesn't cover everything good enough AND I need to make a presentation to someone with money.

    IBM has many nice tools and the best bang for your buck hardware, but Rational ought to be buried into a deep, dark hole with a RADIOACTIVE sign outside. http://www.nmsu.edu/~safety/images/signs/sign_caut ion-rad-mat.jpg [nmsu.edu]
  • by solitas (916005) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @02:23AM (#17699930)
    ...after I SEE it work. After all, the HST needed unanticipated 'eyeglasses' before IT was fully operational (and even then they still had to do lots of software correction afterward).

    FIO: what software runs the HST? Custom, I would imagine.
    • by smoker2 (750216)

      After all, the HST needed unanticipated 'eyeglasses' before IT was fully operational (and even then they still had to do lots of software correction afterward).

      WTF has Hubble got to do with it ? The problem with Hubble was physical, the mirror was distorted. Why was it distorted ? Well it was sat waiting to get launched for so long because of delays with the shuttle (due to a fairly high profile accident), and gravity did its worst. Open or closed software development would have had identical problems. Of c

      • by solitas (916005)
        What it has to do with the HST is that it wasn't done right the first time (software and hardware), and stands a great chance of not being done right the second time. This _is_ NASA...

        As for the mirror: where the fçk have you been? Gravity twisted the mirror because the project was shelved for so long after the Challenger O-ring 'difficulty'? Seriously, you haven't been "following the news"?

        I'll save you time - here, go directly to, and read, the four sections starting with this link: http://en.wik [wikipedia.org]
  • This is not new (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The "Open" standards that are implied in this message are those developed by the CCSDS and OMG.

    Go to the website http://www.ccsds.org/ [ccsds.org] ... there are some very interesting standards especially one called XTCE, which is the used for describing spacecraft data systems.
  • For all the NASA nay-sayers and doubters, have a look at this quote from http://www.informationweek.com/showArticle.jhtml;j sessionid=AP2H4SQPCLVBIQSNDLOSKHSCJUNN2JVN?article ID=191901844 [informationweek.com]:

    "I've always been amazed at the Apollo spacecraft guidance system, built by the MIT Instrumentation Lab. In 1969, this software got Apollo 11 to the moon, detached the lunar module, landed it on the moon's surface, and brought three astronauts home. It had to function on the tiny amount of memory available in the onboard

  • They'll find out as we have in consumer electronics, it's a lot of different companies with incompatible needs stepping on each other that makes stuff not work. The standards process just encapsulates the incompatible needs in a wrapper and creates new jobs for standards VP's.

    You end up with most of the budget spent on reimplementing thousands of requirements because each member mandated each requirement for your inclusion in the consortium, not because you needed every thousandth component.
  • For those unaware (and /. editors too lazy to correct a memorial's name) James Webb was the head of NASA under whom the lunar missions were such a success. He was widely considered to be an excellent leader, both within NASA and in championing NASA in Washington DC. He was with NASA from 1961 to 1968 and died in 1992. In 2002 the planned "Next Generation Space Telescope" was renamed in his honor.

    For more information on the man & the telescope see:

    Wikipedia entry on James E. Webb at NASA [wikipedia.org]

    Wikipedia E

    • Those are good links. I was about to post similar and mention that the "satellite" will be the second man-made object put into "orbit" at lagrange point 2 [wikipedia.org] (the WMAP was the first [wikipedia.org]). This is interesting because it will revolve around the Sun instead of the Earth. If it was round and nothing else was in its orbit it could be considered the first man-made planet. ;-)

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