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NASA congratulates Dell on getting Curiosity to Mars. What this means for the company and cloud computing.

We’ve all seen the NASA control room celebrating or “geeking out” after the Mars rover Curiosity made touchdown on the Red Planet’s surface. If any of you are like me, during the whole mission and the streamed event you just thought it was pretty cool we were landing a remote controlled buggy on Mars, but can I go to sleep now? Let’s think this through again, think about what it took to get that rover(the size of a Mini Cooper) over 225 million kilometers onto a different planet within 10 months, land (while streaming live feed to millions of individuals), conduct its research remotely, and then fly back. This endeavor makes James Cameron’s dive look like exploring the bottom of a bathtub.


So what went into getting Curiosity from point A way over to point B? NASA scientists are making sure they thank the right people but are giving an extra portion of praise out to Dell, claiming it played an integral role in the “most complicated portion of the mission”; the landing.

Curiosity is being controlled by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This lab utilizes NASA’s High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters to power its operations. If these clusters should stop working for any length of time, the communication with Curiosity could be put in peril, even end the entire mission. So NASA spares no costs by using only the best material. And in order to analyze test data, which was needed to navigate Mars’s atmosphere and land safely, NASA has developed two clusters named Galaxy and Nebula, two additional HPC clusters.

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Dell’s role in this event does wonders for its reputation as a company. Dell has been flirting with the US federal government for a long time, already having set up contracts with the defense department, and powering NASA’s exploratory operations only boosts Dell’s points. To be the computer choice of one of the most advanced scientific foundations in the world might be something Dell would want to market.

Dell was quick to return the same gratitude to their employer in an official statement given by Jere Carroll, the general manager civilian agencies for Dell Federal, “We’re proud to work hand-in-hand with NASA, a true American institution that provides the world with the understanding that modern day pioneering delivers optimism and the drive to go further. This notion echoes Dell’s mission to provide customers with a full spectrum of IT hardware and services, helping them to accomplish their mission more effectively and efficiently. Most importantly, we are honored to be able to test and validate this mission’s most critical portion, landing on the Red Planet.”

NASA’s out of this world endorsement goes further beyond the just the silver circular insignia on the back of laptops, but goes to endorse an entirely new frontier of computing, namely cloud computing. Nebula and Galaxy are both cloud computing environments which were built at NASA Ames Research Center, seamlessly taking open-sourced components and transforming them into a high-capacity storage and network system which ups NASA’s scalability and cuts its costs immensely. While brains and guts got us to the moon, cloud computing got us to Mars.

This isn’t the first time NASA has dabbled in cloud computing. In fact, NASA has been one of the lead developers in cloud solutions, having worked hand in hand with Rackspace and was a huge backer of the OpenStack project. In addition to Tang, memory foam mattresses, and zero-gravity proof pens, NASA continues to bring some useful things to the table.

While the critics may bash NASA for an acclaimed “pointless” mission to Mars, we have to remember that there are three constructive items that have come from this journey. First, America used to do things for the ” because it’s cool” factor. That factor has been stumbling for a while, it was about time we pump it up. Second, Dell is becoming the computer of choice by scientists and the federal government. Third, cloud computing is taking us into the final frontier.