MSL: How Big Is It?

By Mike Deliman

Mike Deliman PhotoI’ve been asked here and there “Just how big is this MSL thing?”

It’s a question I can give several answers to, depending on what the asker means.  In physical terms, you could ride on it.  Here is a good example…in this photo of a worker and MSL, you can see the cruise shell is large enough to house a small couch with more than one person sitting on it.  The rover itself is quite large, I’d imagine good comparisons would be something on the order of a ride-on tractor-mower. 

 MSL picture

But that isn’t really the only answer.  In scientific terms, this is huge.  This rover is a well-equipped geological laboratory on wheels.  It carries equipment every high-school and university would be proud to have available.  Laser spectrometer, chemical analyzers, close-up and long-distance cameras, not to mention an advanced autonomous robot running it all.  Any of these tools would be excellent for investigating or teaching/learning about the earth.

Even more so, it represents a huge leap forward in technologies. “Earth sciences” (or Mars) can benefit from miniature spectrometers and imaging tools as are carried on this rover.  An automated flying crane could be applied to many tasks here on Earth, not just dropping scientific payloads where humans should never go (like in a volcano, for instance).  Automated robots could be used to perform maintenance and inspection inside the infrastructures of large cities where humans cannot go, and would be especially useful if they could identify items of interest (like cracks inside a pipeline).  MSL inherited code tested on Opportunity that is able to identify rocks of interest and photograph them, so that our scientists may have the ability to investigate them more closely.

What’s more it’s doing all of this on another planet, sending back results that will once again change what we teach in science classes.

You may ask “Right, but all of this doesn’t really help me now, does it?”  Wind River has benefited immensely from scientific use of our software.  As a for-instance, one of our most powerful tools evolved from investigations made by JPL while testing Mars Pathfinder.  Wind River's System Viewer tool is extremely useful for customers classifying the nominal operations of a system or looking into anomalies. It has grown-up alongside VxWorks, which is at the heart of Curiosity, and is capable of monitoring activities on multiple cores simultaneously.  This can be used to make all of the gizmos we rely on day-to-day much more reliable.

That is pretty huge!


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