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GCN : February 2013
CLOUD CASE STUDY GCN FEBRUARY 2013 • GCN.COM 31 The space agency had sent probes to Mars before, but on Aug. 5, 2012, NASA dared to pierce its veil with the minivan-size Curiosity rover and a complicated delivery system. A unique sky crane transported the precious cargo onto its red, rocky surface. The world was watching, lit- erally, and the manager of data services for tactical operations at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Khawaja Shams, and his team stood ready to broadcast one of the agency's greatest successes --- or perhaps most dismal failures --- to millions around the globe. But equally impressive and per- haps as difficult was the behind- the-scenes complexity of receiving signals over such a great distance via a low-bandwidth space net- work, making them instantly available to scientists and the pub- lic around the world --- and deal- ing with heavy and fluctuating demand on bandwidth. Along with showing the world what Curiosity was finding, NASA was demonstrating the power of highly scalable, on-demand cloud computing. The big events of Aug. 5 started with "seven minutes of terror" when Curiosity entered the Mar- tian atmosphere. There was noth- ing NASA officials could do but hope that everything went accord- ing to the well-researched plan. And because it takes on average 14 minutes to send a command to or receive data from Mars, if any- thing went wrong with the land- ing, NASA wouldn't know until it was too late. Shams admits that he was a little nervous despite also feel- ing confident in his equipment. NASA had enlisted a whole suite of programs and servers from Amazon Web Services to ensure that everyone around the world could tune in without any danger of crashing the net- work. Capacity could be added or removed on the fly and, as it turned out, the system was even able to fix an emergency band- width overflow at a website that To those accustomed to real-time Web streaming, images sent from space might seem routine. But that belies the behind- the-scenes complexity of how NASA managed links to its Mars Curiosity rover. HOW NASA MANAGES DATA SERVICES --- FROM 35 MILLION MILES AWAY BY JOHN BREEDEN II Curiosity at "Rocknest." the spot in Gale Crater where the mission's first scoop sampling took place. Four scoop scars are visible in front of the rover. NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS