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Is Playing a DVD Harder Than Rocket Science? 464

Posted by samzenpus
from the too-much-TV dept.
dacut writes "After successfully repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis found themselves with a free day due to thunderstorms which delayed their return. They attempted to pass the time by watching movies, only to find that their laptops did not have the proper software, and Houston was unable to help. No word, alas, on what software was involved, though we can assume that software/codec updates are a tad difficult when you're orbiting the planet at 17,200MPH."

*

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Is Playing a DVD Harder Than Rocket Science?

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:39AM (#28119243) Journal
    Given that NASA's competence extends to wacky stunts like patching mars rover code by radio, and further given that DeCSS is pretty damn short, when you come right down to it [cmu.edu] they could probably have just gotten somebody on the ground to read it to them.

    The bigger, more serious, question remains: "You are in space! Why are you watching DVDs?"
  • by deek (22697) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:48AM (#28119299) Homepage Journal

    I guess even the view from space becomes boring after a while.

    Maybe they could kick off the first ever game of Zero Gee Football [wikipedia.org]. Surely they'd have a Red Dwarf fan amongst the crew who could suggest it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:57AM (#28119373)

    Problem 1: Not testing that the laptops would be able to play the dvds before launching it all into space.

    Problem 2: Has space flight become so routine and, dare I say it, boring for astronauts that they would prefer to watch dvds?

    Problem 3: They honsetly spent taxpayer money to lift the mass of some DVDs into low orbit, when they should have just ripped the movies to the laptop's hard drive?

    In ripped format there would be no fragile disks floating around in freefall, likely playable even with video players lacking actual DVD support, and most importantly wouldn't add to the fuel cost of lifting the shuttle into low orbit.

    Yet another common sense fail by NASA.

  • A minor nit... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:59AM (#28119381)
    It is not at all clear that they "repaired the Hubble successfully". They performed their jobs well, but we won't know whether the Hubble has been successfully repaired until it is calibrated and producing images.
  • Bored in orbit ??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lexor (724874) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:03AM (#28119403) Homepage Journal
    I'll likely remain Earthbound for my entire life yet I usually find plenty to do before I'm tempted by mass media. Spare time or not, I can't imagine being so bored during a relatively short Shuttle mission that I'd want to fire up a movie. Instead, why not grab a camera and inspire other people who won't ever get the chance to orbit our planet.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:04AM (#28119405) Homepage

    I'll be the first to offer up that I am not the most organized planner or manager. But I have known plenty who were and they could plan anything down to the last detail. I know these people cannot be THAT rare.

    NASA's history is filled with incidents where they forgot tiny details and some pretty major ones as well. While the inability to play a movie isn't a show-stopper, it is a pretty fundamentally stupid thing. But we can also thank the greed of the motion picture industry that insisted on controlling the what and the where of the DVDs you own can be played. And of course, if the users of the computer(s) in question knew about it, VLC would have been a good option regardless of the OS run. But all-in-all, this incident highlights exactly what is wrong with NASA.

    I know NASA wants everyone to believe they are the most careful and meticulous planners on the planet. Nothing could be further from the truth, I think. I have no solutions to offer, so this commentary won't be particularly helpful, but one notion comes to mind that I think should be pretty obvious -- fire the beureaucrats who muck up the works with their self-important nonsense and put people in charge who are selfless and actually care about the mission.

    There shouldn't be a single piece of gear going up into space that doesn't work and there should always be a complete inventory of every item that goes up there complete with weight, density and other details such as whether or not it works. And I could go on and on about space craft design, repair and maintenance policies and procedures, but suffice to say that NASA is supposed to be an extremely idealistic program that is above politics and power games though presently, it is not only made up of politics and power games, it is "that" intensified beyond that which one typically encounters.

    It's a huge mess and it sickens me to see it. NASA was once looked upon as an amazing program well above the pettiness of other daily things, but now it is well below the idealism that it started from and is, at every turn, the poster child of waste and corruption thanks to the influence of the aerospace industry and the military industrial complex that owns it.

  • Oh come on! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:07AM (#28119433)

    There are already people posting "well, they should have checked to make sure their computer could play DVDs." Why? This is a reasonable expectation of what a computer should be able to do out of the box! My Mac certainly came with the ability to play DVDs, and nowadays most Linux installs do too - so we're almost certainly talking about a Windows box. Sure, you can download and install VLC - as a matter of fact, that's what I had to resort to with my wife's old Windows laptop before she (thankfully) switched to a Mac. But why the heck are all you Windows users so tolerant of the stupidity that leaves a stock operating system unable to do exactly the sort of thing the average user will expect to be able to do?

    I was a DOS user and then a Windows user from way back. But silly little things like this always bugged me, and eventually I wised up.

  • by earlymon (1116185) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:13AM (#28119465) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, easy to hate on Win, love OS X and yadda yadda yadda.

    The laptops must have been there for a reason. Perhaps someone in configuration management said, "Gee, it's going into space, it might be mission-critical at some point, so let's not load it up with entertainment stuff and bloatware."

    I don't know - I'm in a more than usual snarky mood.

  • by Cryacin (657549) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:17AM (#28119485)

    I'll be the first to offer up that I am not the most organized planner or manager. But I have known plenty who were and they could plan anything down to the last detail. I know these people cannot be THAT rare.

    I write software for project managers... and yup... they are.

  • by paulwye (1465203) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:26AM (#28119535)
    Um, am I the only one who read that and thought, "They're aboard the shuttle...in space...and they're going to watch a movie? Really? That's the first choice for how to spend a day in a circumstance that basically nobody else on the goddamn planet is going to have a shot at for a really, really long time?

    But perhaps more importantly: what were they going to watch?

    Actually, I just got an idea for a poll.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:46AM (#28119657)

    Perhaps *you* might not be bored in space, but these are astronauts whose *job* it is to be in space. One can only be awed by the beauty of the sight of earth from space for so long, then it becomes old news. Ditto for the space shuttle itself - it might be awesome, interesting, and new to someone who *isn't* already an astronaut and had the inner workings of every piece of tech on it drilled into their head so many times they could do it all in their sleep, but I'm sure its all terribly 'the same old stuff' to those who are.

    Also, there is an awful lot more room on the earth, things you haven't already seen, than there is on the shuttle for the astronauts. They are certainly intimately familiar with every square inch of space that they might go to 'find plenty to do' - pretty much all the gear and equipment they have is all there with the purpose of their mission - there isn't much in terms of 'things to do'. (Well, I heard somewhere they did bring some movies on DVD, presumably ones they haven't already seen)

    And "grab a camera" ? - I'm sure so many pictures have been taken from orbit, and of the inside of the shuttle, that any more would just be a waste of storage/film. I'm sure that there were even cameras rolling (and/or snapping) for their entire set of spacewalks working on Hubble, as well. What on earth could now they take pictures of that would be new?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2009 @03:48AM (#28120249)

    It's a frigging DVD player.

    Play. Stop. Pause. FFW, REW.

    What's there for the bloody UI??? My hardware DVD player doesn't have a "UI". Why must my software one?

  • Re:VLC (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @03:49AM (#28120263)

    And that's why Russian spacecraft will always outlast US spacecraft. They may be prone to a wee bit more error, but in general you get the feeling the underlying idea is "screw protocol, what matters is it works!"

    But then again... After all, the Soviet Union also failed because sticking to doctrine and doing it "the marxist way" was more important than logic, reason and real life requirements (amongst other shortcomings). It could now be the downfall of "our western" system as well. It doesn't matter anymore what is logic, reasonable or actually required. It seems more and more "looking good" and "doing the 'right' thing" is more important than accomplishing anything.

  • Re:I hate DVDs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haeleth (414428) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @03:51AM (#28120267) Journal

    Oh, please. You're as bad as the people who go on endlessly about "technically, a Mac is a PC". Drop the etymological reductionism and acknowledge that the meaning of a phrase is defined by its usage, not by the sum of the meanings of its components.

    In the real world so unfamiliar to the endless horde of quibblers and nitpickers, there is no distinction between "laser disc" and "LaserDisc". The generic term used for media such as LDs and DVDs is "optical disc", not "laser disc".

  • Re:VLC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fractoid (1076465) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @03:54AM (#28120297) Homepage
    Plus the Russians will always be more relaxed because, you know, they've got cool tunes to listen to.

    Actually, I think lack of respect for patents and copyright laws is probably one of the big drivers in the Chinese economic boom. Because there's no artificial limitations on what you can build and sell, all manner of artefacts are effectively 'open source'.
  • by TornCityVenz (1123185) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @04:07AM (#28120353) Homepage Journal
    I would think just about ANYTHING you could do in space would be a better use of your time that watching a stupid movie.
  • Re:LOL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Thursday May 28, 2009 @04:51AM (#28120609)

    It's simple: There is no rule, just one (1) statement.

    (Excuse my profanity)
    You're in Fucking Space! SPACE! At best this is going to happen only a handful of times in the average astronauts lifetime, more likely only once, what the hell are they doing with a DVD player!?!

  • Re:VLC (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @04:58AM (#28120651)

    No, duh, you think? You think it could be cheaper to manufactor if you don't pay a sponger who essentially doesn't add jack to the production process?

  • by drizek (1481461) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @05:39AM (#28120905)

    No, they're the first people to get screwed by DRM in space.

    Take that you commies!

  • Re:VLC (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2009 @05:54AM (#28120995)

    Of course, one of the biggest obstacles to linux adoption is that Windows is effectively "open source".

    That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. You are full of shit.

  • by el3mentary (1349033) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @05:56AM (#28121011)

    We are scientists are we not?

    Test the Theory:

    DRM Sucks.

  • by fwarren (579763) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @06:04AM (#28121061) Homepage

    Someone like "Amazon" or "Apple" should provide Movies for the space missions. It is great PR. Each astronaut picks 5 movies or so, which get loaded onto the laptop. It saves NASA and the taxpayers money, because you don't have to pay for the fuel to lift the DVDs. Someone has made sure the software to view the movies is on the Laptop in whatever OS they are using. And who ever pulls off this PR stunt pays 1 or 2 bucks in royalties to the studios.

    It sounds like a win-win to everyone involved.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2009 @06:07AM (#28121077)

    Here's the build:

    http://packages.debian.org/etch/graphics/vlc [debian.org]

    Here's the source:

    http://packages.debian.org/source/etch/vlc [debian.org]

    Are you a moron or just a bad troll?

  • Re:VLC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @06:23AM (#28121169) Homepage

    It's also cheaper to manufacture something if you don't have to pay your own design, research, development and marketing costs, and just clone someone else's work and sell into the market that they created.

  • Re:VLC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @07:01AM (#28121375) Journal
    Aircraft and ships come under rules similar to embassies of their country of registration and so that country's laws apply inside. I presume the same is true of spacecraft. They could use VLC if they took their laptop on a spacewalk though...
  • by DerCed (155038) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @07:01AM (#28121377)

    Watching planet earth from outer space will be fascinating for an hour and the fascination will be renewed whenever lighting chances or any other circumstances lead to a new view. However, staring 8 hours at a blue ball will not be fascinating enough.
    Maybe for a Zen buddhist, yes, but not for scientists/astronaut hybrids.

  • Re:LOL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tisha_AH (600987) <Tisha.Hayes@gmail.com> on Thursday May 28, 2009 @07:45AM (#28121611) Journal

    Yes, going into space would be cool, a once in a lifetime event and almost every breathing human being would be utterly flabbergasted by the view and the opportunity. I think that there is an aspect that you are overlooking;

    The activities that NASA assigns the shuttle crew, mission specialists and spacewalkers is very intensive and intellectually exhausting. Being in space for a week to two weeks and having nearly every minute of your time mapped out and assigned creates an incredible amount of stress.

    Working on earth, in a conventional job. Let's say as a programmer, working 16 hour days with a team of bosses standing right behind you and monitoring your every keystroke, you would find yourself exhausted and looking for a mental margarita after a very short time.

    NASA cannot make it to the Mos Eisley Cantina on the planet Tatooine where the crew can have a few beers and tease the imperial storm troopers (Star Wars reference). Being able to take 2-3 hours out of a mission to watch a movie is most certainly a welcome diversion.

    For a historical reference look up what happened on Skylab 3 when NASA ground controllers assigned too many tasks to the station crew. After a few days the Skylab 3 crew "went out on strike" for a day and refused to answer any ground communications unless it was an emergency. They needed the downtime to rest and relax. After that incident NASA became a bit more relaxed in how many micromanaged tasks they would burden astronauts with and began to put relaxation time into their mission planning.

  • Re:LOL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @08:18AM (#28121899) Journal

    There are people in the world who are just boring and unimaginitive. People who aren't stupid, but just don't think of interesting things to do, and aren't interested in doing them anyway, even if someone else thinks of them and invites them along.

    You can tell who they are by their reaction to this [xkcd.com] xkcd comic.

    Such a person would never think of passing the time with a game of space-tag (too childish) or rocket-dancing (too touchy, inadvertently suggestive name.). So a movie (and not a particularly exciting one, btw. Probably something like French Kiss ) is the obvious choice.

    Apparently, the space program has become so routine that such people have found their way there. I've no idea how that's even possible (if you're that dull, what would possess you to apply for astronaut training?)

  • Re:VLC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @08:28AM (#28122015)

    Plus the Russians will always be more relaxed because, you know, they've got cool tunes to listen to. Actually, I think lack of respect for patents and copyright laws is probably one of the big drivers in the Chinese economic boom. Because there's no artificial limitations on what you can build and sell, all manner of artefacts are effectively 'open source'.

    Yes, and no. An awful lot of what's made in China in this "open source" manner is made by people who barely grasp what they are doing - a businessman hires a tech away from a rival company to set up some widget machine, so the other company limps along until their machine breaks and then they get someone to patch it together with chewing gum, and even the guy that hired the "expert" only pays him as little as possible to keep him around, so the "expert" likely learned about the machine in an apprentice sort of fashion working at yet another rival plant, etc. etc.

    A lot of what they turn out is good, usable product at an amazing (low low Wal Mart) price, but a lot of it is on the ragged edge of being worthless junk when new, and you should expect 90% of it to fail within a very short time.

    Harbor Freight vs Snap-On tools is a good case study. At Harbor Freight, you can equip a mechanic's toolbox for about 5 to 10% of the price of the same tools from Snap-On. Sure, the tools are crap, but almost all of them will work at least the first time you use them, and usually they'll last about 5 to 10% as long as the Snap-On tools, so, as long as you don't mind working with crap that falls apart on you 10 to 20 times as often, you're getting fair value from Harbor Freight, and really, 90% of the tools in the toolbox aren't used enough to make the Harbor Freight variety wear out, anyway - so it makes damn good sense to stock them, for those things that you really don't use often, or at all.

    By the way, don't reply with any "you get what you pay for" cliche's, by stroke of fate, I have been given two $3K notebook PCs in the past 3 years (MacBook Pro and Sony Vaio), the first has a bad heat-sink on the GPU (that's really damn difficult to get at to repair) that causes the screen to lock-up every hour or so, and the second is sitting on my desk right now in a dozen pieces because the on-site warranty repair tech couldn't figure out how to get it back together after replacing the backlight, which started to flicker out to black after only 3 months. At some point, luxury tech starts to resemble owning a 1960's Jaguar - beautiful, but it costs more to maintain it in running order for 5000 miles than it does to purchase, and purchasing it ain't cheap.

  • Re:VLC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @08:48AM (#28122207) Homepage

    'into the market that they created'? i think not. either the market was already there or it wasn't

    How can a market "already be there" for a new product?

    The iPod - the original iPod, when the alternatives were CD walkmen and minidisc players - created the market and the demand for Chinese iPod clones.

    If you believe otherwise, I'd like a hit of what you're toking on.

  • Re:VLC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fractoid (1076465) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @08:51AM (#28122249) Homepage

    But if the Chinese factory leaks your specs and a knock-off is released into your market, reducing your profits, that impacts your savings.

    Leaks your specs? Nah, they just do another complete production run using the same factory line that they used to build your order.

    When it becomes interesting is when they actually tweak your design a little, add a few more features that you missed. It seems to me that a totally free market like this actually drives innovation far harder than a traditional, copyright-and-patent-protected market because if the only market exclusivity your product has is the three months it takes your competitors to clone it, you'd damn well better come up with something new and _good_ in those three months to stay ahead of the curve. I would say that in 10 to 20 years' time, Chinese products will be more advanced than 'western' ones, purely due to this incredible market force.

  • Re:VLC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jsoderba (105512) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @08:52AM (#28122253)

    That's a good point. Most developed countries didn't get seriously concerned with IP law until they started exporting IP themselves. Japanese companies made a lot of knock-offs in the 1950s and 60s; Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan followed in the 70s and 80s. Is it surprising then that China, India, Vietnam etc. do the same? The difference is perhaps that it is easier to spot in todays better informed market.

  • Re:VLC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Silentknyght (1042778) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @09:36AM (#28122777)

    How can a market "already be there" for a new product?

    In economic terms, its called a substitute good [wikipedia.org]. Any product, even nonexistent, exists in a market to which it is/will be a substitute good for some other product. I have a difficult time believing that any unrealized or otherwise imagined product could NOT be a substitute for a current good/service.

  • Re:VLC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Steauengeglase (512315) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @09:36AM (#28122779)

    Somewhat off-topic, but this is probably the single biggest argument for and against laissez-faire. On one hand, the guy selling cheapest is the guy selling most. On the other hand, well the people who say they are tired of regulation and taxation, never say they are sick and tired of patent protection.

  • Re:LOL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FlyingGuy (989135) <flyingguy@gmail . c om> on Thursday May 28, 2009 @10:01AM (#28123099)

    No need to get all gay ( not saying there is anything wrong with that ) I mean they had Megan [wikipedia.org] up there, she could have done the boys a turn.

  • Acronym Police (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Asmor (775910) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:22PM (#28125041) Homepage

    DRM - Devil's wRong Maintenance

    Holy fuck, man, if you're going to force an acronym that hard at least make it one that's good and/or makes sense. That looks like you just took one word that sounded bad and started with a D, one word that sounded bad and had an R near the front, and one word that just happened to be a noun starting with M.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:34PM (#28125225) Homepage

    There are people in the world who are just boring and unimaginitive. People who aren't stupid, but just don't think of interesting things to do, and aren't interested in doing them anyway, even if someone else thinks of them and invites them along.

    Apparently, the space program has become so routine that such people have found their way there. I've no idea how that's even possible (if you're that dull, what would possess you to apply for astronaut training?)

    Uh-huh. Yeah, it's that these astronauts are just boring, mundane, unimaginative people.

    Either that, or it's that these astronauts have spent weeks up to their necks in a combination of Awesome, Challenge, and Danger as they float around in fucking OUTER SPACE, fixing an incredible yet delicate scientific instrument that both expands our scientific horizons and blows our minds with crazy images, with their clunky suits and a tether to their space ship being the only thing keeping them alive as they work, and their office view consisting of the little blue globe they call home and the vastness of space.

    These peoples' bowel movements are more amazing than anything you do here on earth, and your example of something "interesting" is an attraction at Chuck-E-Cheese?

    I mean would you seriously tell an experimental jet test pilot (which many astronauts were before they decided to do something even cooler) who after flying around at supersonic speeds all day pushing both their body and mind to the limit constantly decides that when they land back at base to spend the rest of the day chilling in the rec room watching American Idol, that they're dull?

    Maybe, just maybe, after two weeks of being responsible for one of the most complicated machines ever made (which in case I haven't mentioned is a fucking space ship) where every action has the potential to be a matter of life and death on the boundaries of human adaptability, "dull" has a certain appeal, you know, as a change of pace.

    Here's my example of unimaginative: Someone who thinks an astronaut has to play "space-tag" to make their life exciting and interesting.

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