Online extra: Virtual reality helps NASA plot rovers' Mars research

The NASA planetary scientists studying the results of the explorations by Mars rovers are benefiting from virtual-reality research at the space agency's Ames Research Center.

The Moffett Field, Calif., center, a pioneer in virtual reality and telerobotics, is providing the Mars scientists with situational awareness tools, said Larry Edwards, an Ames computer scientist.

'They want to be really careful of what they're doing,' Edwards said.

The eight cameras on each rover are arranged in stereo pairs. There are front and rear hazard-avoidance cameras, navigational cameras for the earthbound operators and science cameras for high-resolution, narrow-field imaging.

The science operations team uses about 30 Linux workstations, each with Quadro FX 2000 or Quadro FX 3000 graphics cards from nVidia Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. The team wanted graphics subsystems compatible with Linux and the OpenGL standard for high-performance graphics, Edwards said.

Wearing blue-red 3-D glasses, the scientists can do interactive simulations of flight over the landing sites to choose potential targets for further exploration.

Edwards applauded the graphics subsystems. 'Six months ago, I didn't think we were going to be able to do this,' he said.

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