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Is Playing a DVD Harder Than Rocket Science? 464

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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  • VLC (Score:5, Informative)

    by jeffhenson ( 801813 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:26AM (#28119157)

    Too bad vlc [] wasn't part of their default software.

    • Re:VLC (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rxan ( 1424721 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:38AM (#28119237)
      I was just going to say, shoulda got VLC. My buddy had a DVD that wouldn't even play on DVD players or a PS2. Got VLC, no problem.
      • Re:VLC (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @02:21AM (#28119883) Homepage
        Isn't there a small issue with this being a government-funded space mission, and VLC being somewhat in breach of the DMCA or software patents or something due to its inclusion of a not-paid-up DVD decoder? I may be out of date on this issue, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have VLC for the same reason they wouldn't encode mp3s with LAME.
        • 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: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'.
            • Re:VLC (Score:5, Informative)

              by mike2R ( 721965 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @06:33AM (#28121243)

              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'.

              It's a sensible way to develop an economy. Which is why the US didn't recognise foreign copyrights or patents until 1891.

              • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by JoeMerchant ( 803320 )

              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 sor

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by bored ( 40072 )

                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.

                For the shade tree mechanic, lasting 10% as long as the quality tool, is still far longer than necessary. In other words I'm only using that drill for a couple hours a year i

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              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: (Score:3, Interesting)

          The DMCA doesnt apply outside US borders.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by sumdumass ( 711423 )

            Yes and no. The DMCA applies to WIPO countries which have signed onto the WCT and the WPPT. the penalties might not be the same but the countries are obligated to the effects of the DMCA because it was pulled almost directly from those two treaties less the punishments.

            This is how the US was able to extradite an Australian citizen to America for a violation of it. This is also why you see a lot of countries attempting to implement DMCA style laws.

            • Re:VLC (Score:5, Interesting)

              by hughk ( 248126 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @05:01AM (#28120675) Journal
              EU countries for example, have the reverse engineering exemption. If we have te right to use data, we can use whatever technical means to get at that data including reverse engineering for interoperability. The US doesn't like this and has been trying to force a change but it seems that it isn't going to happen.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
            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...
  • Brian [on phone with Jillian]: Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh, you gotta hit, uh, "DVD" and then "menu" and then "select." Yeah... Yeah, the DVD needs to be face-up when you put it in. Uh huh. You should be able to see the words "Mr. 3000" Yeah... Still nothing? Is it plugged in? Okay, so, plug it in...


  • Likely cause... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Manip ( 656104 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:30AM (#28119195)

    Because DVD Playback requires a basic $5~ codec (for all the patent holders etc) some versions of Windows do not ship with it and thus without third party applications like PowerDVD or WinDVD that supply a codec, DVD Playback is "impossible."

    I'm not sure I know a workaround without sending data to the station, either a codec or third party software that has a built-in decoder.

    Another day, another victory for DRM!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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 [] 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 node 3 ( 115640 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:01AM (#28119389)

        Hubble is not in the normal space shuttle/ISS orbit, which made getting an Internet connection more difficult than usual. In their normal orbit, they just time their Internet downloads for when they are passing over Cringely's Pringles can WiFi antenna...

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The bigger, more serious, question remains: "You are in space! Why are you watching DVDs?"

        The view out the window is soooooo boring. Just a big blue and white ball, the moon and a billion stars you could just reach out and touch.

      • Because they'd been looking at the vast expanses of nothingness for 6 days already.

        Haven't you ever seen Event Horizon?

      • by Jurily ( 900488 ) <> on Thursday May 28, 2009 @03:40AM (#28120213)
        "and further given that DeCSS is pretty damn short, when you come right down to it"

        To clarify:

        typedef unsigned int uint;
        char ctb[512]="33733b2663236b763e7e362b6e2e667bd393db0643034b96de9ed60b4e0e4\
        typedef unsigned char uchar;uint tb0[11]={5,0,1,2,3,4,0,1,2,3,4};uchar* F=NULL;
        uint lf0,lf1,out;void ReadKey(uchar* key){int i;char hst[3]; hst[2]=0;if(F==\
        [3]<<8)|key[2];lf1=((lf1&0xfffff8)<<1)|(lf1&0x7)|0x8;}uchar Cipher(int sw1,\
        int sw2){int i,a,b,x=0,y=0;for(i=0;i<8;i++){a=((lf0>>2)^(lf0>>16))&1;b=((lf1\
        |(a<<7);y=(y>>1)|(b<<7);}x^=sw1;y^=sw2;return out=(out>>8)+x+y;} void \
        CSSdescramble(uchar *sec,uchar *key){uint i;uchar *end=sec+0x800;uchar KEY[5];
        end)*sec++=F[*sec]^Cipher(255,0);}void CSStitlekey1(uchar *key,uchar *im)
        {uchar k[5];int i; ReadKey(im);for(i=0;i<5;i++)k[i]=Cipher(0,0);for(i=9;i>=0;\
        i--)key[tb0[i+1]]=k[tb0[i+1]]^F[key[tb0[i+1]]]^key[tb0[i]];}void CSStitlekey2\
        (uchar *key,uchar *im){uchar k[5];int i;ReadKey(im);for(i=0;i<5;i++)k[i]=\
        [tb0[i]];}void CSSdecrypttitlekey(uchar *tkey,uchar *dkey){int i;uchar im1[6];
        uchar im2[6]={0x51,0x67,0x67,0xc5,0xe0,0x00};for(i=0;i<6;i++)im1[i]=dkey[i];
    • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:43AM (#28119261) Journal

      Because DVD Playback requires a basic $5~ codec (for all the patent holders etc) some versions of Windows do not ship with it and thus without third party applications like PowerDVD or WinDVD that supply a codec, DVD Playback is "impossible."

      Pirates! Theives! No one sold them a license to play the DVD in space! Unless it's region 0 it must be illegal. Either that or your software would have to play one DVD per region in the Shuttle's orbit (and of synchronise switching between players while switching other players off to avoid licensing violations). No the lag they'd experience with playback is not an excuse!

    • If you proceed from the mistaken assumption that these are cheap ass vanilla laptops from a dodgy computer store... then, yeah. This is a 'victory' for DRM.

      But that's not the situation here - these are configuration controlled laptops specifically prepared for use on the Shuttle. Odds are the prelaunch checklist didn't include 'test entertainment capabilities' and thus the lack of a codec or driver went unnoticed.

  • by fatp ( 1171151 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:33AM (#28119203) Journal
    So they bought DVDs without verifying that they could be played?

    Completely waste of fuel...
  • I mean if they don't want to use VLC. Doesn't media player classic also do DVD's?
    • Yep. Every single one of those would work. Klite, VLC, MPC/MPC-HC!

      Heck, most computers come with extra software like PowerDVD. I'm amazed they had nothing.

  • by ZombieRoboNinja ( 905329 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:36AM (#28119229)

    Any idea how hard it is to get DVDs in the "Outer Space" region encoding?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by identity0 ( 77976 )

      There is no "outer space" region code, obviously. One simply switches the region code (or swap the disk in another player) each time the shuttle crosses over to a different region. []

      (on a more serious note, it seems there is a special region code for international venues such as aircraft)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 )

      Given the average content industry logic, it's probably "None. The market is too small so we can't find a local distributor, but no other distributor has the right to sell it there and you can't import it yourself due to restrictions. Sorry that you can't have that certain content in your outer space region."

  • by Tim4444 ( 1122173 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @12:44AM (#28119277)
    does drm cover space shuttles? i'd think they'd need some kinda special license for that. there's probably a nominal fee - maybe proportional to the velocity at time of viewing. or maybe someone had already watched the copy before launch so it had expired. there must be a patent on watching movies in 0g so someone needs to be paid.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Get DVDs working on the shuttle? They are rocket scientists, not Linux gurus, so give them a break already.

  • 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 []. Surely they'd have a Red Dwarf fan amongst the crew who could suggest it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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

  • 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.
  • by HW_Hack ( 1031622 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:00AM (#28119387)

    no one can hear you scream "AAARRRGGGHHHHHHHHHH" !

  • Bored in orbit ??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lexor ( 724874 )
    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 artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:23AM (#28119515)

      You find plenty to do on Earth. Now lock yourself in a small room with a few other people for a few weeks, and see if you never get bored.

      Oh, wait, Slashdot... being locked in a small room with a few people is probably more stimulating than normal.

    • 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?

  • 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 artor3 ( 1344997 )

      Weren't Linux users arguing a little while back that Windows ought to ship without a web browser?

      (I kid, I kid... I'm pretty sure the majority saw how stupid that would've been)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Can't speak for other distribs since it's been too long since I've used them, but last I checked ubuntu throws up a message on the first attempt at playing a DVD using totem telling you that if you want to play the dvd you have to click ok and allow it to download codecs, which may or may not be legal depending on the laws of your country.

      And yes, ubuntu is my main OS (although I haven't done a fresh install in a pretty long time).

    • Re:Oh come on! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @02:22AM (#28119889) Journal

      It's okay - the MPAA are shooting themselves in the foot. Every time a Windows user can't figure out how to play a DVD, a new pirate is born. :D

    • Re:Oh come on! (Score:5, Informative)

      by arkhan_jg ( 618674 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @03:01AM (#28120017)

      Same reason that linux doesn't playback MP3, DVDs and h.264 by default. US-only software patents covering the codecs. Without paying the fee, and getting the licences to use the patents, it's illegal to ship it in your US product.

      XP added limited MP3 playback, Windows Vista added built in MPEG2 playback, and 7 adds h.264 playback. Yes, XP should have had MPEG2 playback built in, it came out three years after DVD became widely available.

      Linux at least has the excuse that free distros can't pay the patent fees and thus can't ship them in the default package to US users (so usually have a 'download it now' option when you first need it, where you promise you don't live in the US, and download from a mirror elsewhere in the world). This is annoying when you do live outside the US, and have to put up with software patent bullshit in everything, even non-US software projects, because they don't want to get sued.

  • 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 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 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 AftanGustur ( 7715 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:32AM (#28119571) Homepage
    Have you any idea how many "regions" you're going through in just 20 minutes ..

    No wonder they didn't make it through the "Thy shall not copy this DVD" part.

  • by grepya ( 67436 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:34AM (#28119585)

    Don't they know, outer space is region 8 (*laid down sideways). MPAA is still working on the technology to allow playback there.

  • by spokedoke ( 1211292 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:56AM (#28119731)

    From TFA, they worked with tech support for "More than an hour".

    Astronauts must go through some seriously painful training if they can spend that much time on the phone with IT

    Uhh...Did you try restarting the computer?

  • by Fr05t ( 69968 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @04:57AM (#28120645)

    "I'm currently orbiting the Earth for an extra 24 hours because of weather delays and trying to watch a DVD..."

  • by Markee ( 72201 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @05:26AM (#28120823)

    Hey astronauts, maybe you should not have set a new country code every 15 minutes while passing over the next continent....

  • by Onyma ( 1018104 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @06:52AM (#28121341)
    It's suggest they stream the movie to them but you know what they say... In space, no one can hear your stream.
  • Modems (Score:3, Funny)

    by CobaltBlueDW ( 899284 ) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @07:40AM (#28121589)

    If NASA can get internet, and NASA communicates with the space station... What era is NASA living in, if the space station can't get an internet connection. The internet solves all problems, especially missing codec problems.

    I'm scratching "Be an Astronaut" off my life goals list. Seriously, stuck in a room for months and months on end with OUT an internet connection?!

    No pizza, and no internet make homer... something, something.

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner