NASA Creates a New NEBULA: Cloud Computing Project

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NASA has developed a new cloud computing project based on open source components that provides high capacity computing, storage, and networking. Called NEBULA, the space agency said the cloud project could be used in support of space missions, as well as for education, public outreach and input, and collaborations. NASA said NEBULA is a more open Web strategy designed to give the public greater participation in the space program.

Currently, the NEBULA cloud is being used to host a website, Nebula.nasa.gov.

On that site, NASA says the “fully-integrated nature of the NEBULA components provides for extremely rapid development of policy-compliant and secure web applications, fosters and encourages code reuse, and improves the coherence and cohesiveness of NASA’s collaborative web applications.” It integrates open source components into a seamless, self-service platform.

“Built from the ground up around principles of transparency and public collaboration, Nebula is also an open source project,” according to NASA.

NASA describes Nebula as a combination of infrastructure, platform, and software as a service, and the space agency has created an IT architecture in support of that. An article in Information Week says the components include the Eucalyptus software developed at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the Lustre file system deployed on 64-bit storage nodes, the Django Web application framework, the SOLR indexing and search engine, and an integrated development environment. Nebula will be compatible with Amazon Web Services, which means AWS-compatible tools will work with it and Nebula virtual servers can run on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud.

In a paper written by Chris Kemp, CIO of NASA’s Ames Research Center Kemp of NASA Ames, he says NEBULA could be used for an overhaul of NASA’s many websites, consolidating into a “single facility” with a Web application framework that would include templates for user-generated blogs, wikis, and other content.

Kemp wrote that such an approach would support the public’s desire to be more actively engaged with NASA and its space missions.

Sources: NEBULA, Information Week

Dextre vs. HAL

As Endeavour departs from the International Space Station on Monday, the space shuttle crew leaves behind a two-armed robot, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), which the astronauts affectionately refer to as Dextre. Any reference to robots in space brings to mind other famous, albeit fictitious, machines that have interacted with humans on board a spacecraft. And, with the recent passing of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, one famous machine named HAL particularly comes to mind, especially when you factor in that Dextre is what’s called a “telemanipulator.” Any chance the space station crew needs to worry about the robot lurking right outside their hatch?

Endeavour crewmember Rick Linnehan said, don’t worry, there is no comparison between Dextre and HAL, the famous malfunctioning computer who killed astronauts in the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“I’m a big Arthur C. Clarke fan and I have to tell you Dextre just isn’t as smart as HAL,” said Linnehan in new conference from the ISS on Sunday. “He’s built to be brawn not brains and he’s going to serve a big purpose up here in terms of moving a lot of hardware around.”

HAL 9000.  Image credit:  Wikipedia

Dextre, the two-armed, $200-million robot will reduce the amount of time astronauts must spend outside the space station, and could eliminate the need for up to a dozen spacewalks a year, said Daniel Rey, head of the Canadian technical team that prepared Dextre for his mission on board the space station.

“He will free up astronauts so they can do more science and more research rather than maintenance,” said Rey. Dextre will perform exterior construction and tasks like changing batteries and handling experiments outside the space station. Dextre also comes equipped with a tool holster which allows the robot to change equipment as needed “like any good handyman.”

Rey also concurred that 3.7-meter robot Dextre can’t be compared to HAL. “He doesn’t have an artificial intelligence. . .he can be remote controlled from the ground or from the space station.” Dextre will be able to manipulate items “from the size of a phone book to a phone booth,” Rey added.

As for HAL, in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he maintains all systems on an interplanetary voyage, plays chess, and has a special penchant for lip reading. Those capabilities just aren’t in Dextre’s database. However, HAL was programmed with the objective to ensure mission success. That’s one area where HAL and Dex do have something in common.

Original News Source: NASA TV and the Canadian Press