Mars explorations use Xerox software

Since the two Nasa rovers landed on Mars in January researchers around the world have been able to collaborate and plan the...

Since the two Nasa rovers landed on Mars in January researchers around the world have been able to collaborate and plan the missions for the rovers with software from Xerox.

The researchers are using Xerox Docushare Enterprise Content Management software to share information around the globe and around the clock as the rover missions continue.

The web-based application allows Nasa to download photographs and other data from the rovers so that researchers can contribute their ideas and work with one another on what exploratory steps to take next, said Vernon Piette, an electronic library service engineer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the headquarters for the Mars missions. 

Most of the scientific data from the rovers is beamed by radio directly to the scientific computers at the JPL and stored in proprietary formats for use by Nasa scientists and mission experts. 

The data collected each Martian day is then analysed and used to plan the next day's work. The collaboration by researchers around the world is done through Docushare, which allows notes to be added to original documents which can be viewed and shared. 

David Smith, vice-president and general manager of Xerox's Docushare business unit, said the software was chosen by the JPL five years ago because it is easy to use without extensive training. The software was used during the development phase of the Mars Exploration mission for daily storing and exchange of planning documents. 

Each of the rovers runs under Wind River Systems' VxWorks operating system, which is embedded in a specially prepared, radiation-hardened 20-MHz PowerPC CPU installed on each of the rovers, along with 128Mbytes of Ram. The hardware was cutting edge when it was chosen in the mid-1990s, but then it had to be treated to ensure its reliability in the radiation of deep space - a process that takes five to 10 years. 

The Docushare system runs on a central Solaris server and supports users across all platforms, including Windows and Linux. 

In addition to the team supporting the Mars Exploration Rover project, more than 5,000 people are using Docushare for other active projects at Nasa JPL. In total, the Xerox Docushare content and document management system houses 700Gbytes of data and manages more than 300,000 files for the space program.

Todd R Weiss writes for IDG News Service

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