Intel iQ: Programming Rovers On Mars From 100 Million Miles Away

Intel iQ: Programming Rovers On Mars From 100 Million Miles Away

How did a team of NASA scientists actually get a one ton robot onto the red planet?

Carib Guerra
  • 28 august 2012

Putting a one ton robot on Mars is very hard. So hard, in fact, that NASA created a Hollywood-type trailer detailing the challenges of landing the ‘Curiosity’ rover on Mars, to let us know that it’s not all Tang and budget cuts over there. By using the ‘Seven Minutes of Terror’ video,  NASA drummed up suspense around the rover, successfully getting people excited about space again (the Mohawk helped a bit, too).

And it wasn’t just hype—the suspense is justified!

On 30 July 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) flight team began executing a plan of action, designed and programmed over nine months ago using software called VxWorks, which was created by the Intel subsidiary Wind River. VxWorks managed all of the white-knuckle inducing feats involved in the spacecraft’s entry, descent, and landing. Mile Deliman, senior member of the technical staff at Wind River, explained:

Wind River’s VxWorks is the software platform that controls the execution of all of Curiosity’s functions—from managing avionics to collecting science data and sending the experimental results back to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Earth using satellite telemetry.

When Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars on 6 August 2012 it became the eighth rover to travel to our rust-colored neighbor, and the fourth to successfully touchdown. Of those four, only one is still active: the Mars Exploration Rover (MER), Opportunity, which has been exploring the Red Planet for over 3100 days.

Since 2009 one of the MER operators, Scott Maxwell, has kept a blog detailing his days at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In his last post on 4 April 2012, he shared his thoughts on the experience as a whole:

[T]o contemplate how my life has changed in those years. Deaths, divorce, new beginnings — the rovers have been there to anchor me through ups and downs. No matter how bad things got, I’d go to work, reach across a hundred million miles of emptiness, and move something on the surface of another world. It was always magic.

The Curiosity rover is a huge upgrade from the earlier Mars Exploration Rover, with nearly ten times the mass of scientific instruments. In line with the four goals of the Mars Exploration program, Curiosity will attempt to:

  • Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars.
  • Characterize the Climate of Mars.
  • Characterize the Geology of Mars.
  • Prepare for Human Exploration.

As you can imagine, controlling a robot on another planet takes more than just a joystick and a pair of radio antennas. The MER teams are made up of hundreds of people working together to carry out the missions, and if Curiosity makes its landing they will jump into action. The difficulties they face are literally astronomical.

Continue reading the rest of this story at iQ by Intel.





With the help of iQ by Intel, is exploring how technology impacts our lives. iQ by Intel connects readers to the trends and discussions that are moving our planet forward. To read more inspiring stories about how technology is unleashing the world’s human potential to create a better future visit iQ by Intel.


Dubai And The Future Of Humanitarian Design

Design & Architecture
Technology october 21, 2016

Concept Camera Designed To Only Take Unique Photos

Camera Restricta is tool that prompts photographers to only capture one-of-a-kind images

Design & Architecture october 21, 2016

Fragrance Will Release The Smell Of Data If Your Private Information Is Being Leaked

The device is designed to create a physical cue for the potential dangers lurking online


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Retail october 21, 2016

LYNK & CO Is A New Auto Brand That Promises Mobile Connectivity On Wheels

Online access and mobility sharing are driving the company to disrupt the auto industry

Related Expert

Avi Savar

Crowdfunding, Social Media

Travel october 21, 2016

Become A Citizen Of The First Nation In Space

Asgardia is a new concept for a floating society above Earth

Entertainment october 21, 2016

Speaker Displays Song Lyrics As Music Is Played

The device is able to generate the graphics on a translucent screen and retrieve the words from a connected database

AI october 21, 2016

Travel Assistant Scans Your Emails To Make Planning Easier

This AI add-on will sync with your inbox and sends reminders to make sure you don't miss anything important


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed october 20, 2016

Wearable Tech Expert: Designing Technology To Empower Connection To Ourselves

Billie Whitehouse, Founder of Wearable Experiments, shares her new vision for the quantified self

PSFK Labs october 21, 2016

PSFK Picks: Top 5 Performance-Enhancing Wearables

Our new report looks at innovations pioneering the future of performance through intelligent activewear and predictive analytics

Millennials october 21, 2016

FOMO Survival Kit Helps Millennials Cope With Social Anxieties

The satirical product is meant to be a playful diversion for people who feel like they are missing out

Food october 21, 2016

New York Restaurant Uses Tomato Sushi As Its Newest Meat Alternative

fresh&co is using sous vide Roma tomatoes to create a vegan option that has the texture and taste of tuna

Advertising october 21, 2016

Red Bull Converts Sao Paulo Payphones Into Data-Driven Bus Schedules

The booths allow city residents to check local transit times through a simple toll-free phone call

Work october 21, 2016

Health Expert: Nutritional Meal Replacements Are A Solution To Corporate Wellness

Ample Foods Founder Connor Young explains why supplements are the next food trend coming to the workplace

Retail october 21, 2016

Why Experiential Events Could Replace Trade Shows

Marketers are seeking creative and impactful new ways to connect with influencers

Children october 21, 2016

Modular Kit Teaches Kids How To Make Their Own Robots

MODI features magnetic modules and a platform for programming to encourage experimentation

Infants october 21, 2016

Work Table Doubles As A Baby Seat

Designer Kunsik Choi created the furniture to facilitate emotional communication between between parents and their children

Technology october 21, 2016

Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Streamed

Bill Baird's new album explores the relationship between time and music through a website crafted by design team, One Pixel Wide

No search results found.