A NASA flight system interface goes commercial

The command and control interface familiar to shuttle flight engineers is moving out of
the NASA world and becoming a general-purpose systems interface.


Kinesix Corp. of Houston has groomed its Standards-based Advanced Man-Machine Interface
as a $300-per-seat window for high-level managers to see 'the very same data the guys
in the control room are seeing, pretty much any time they wish,' said Russ Jamerson,
Kinesix vice president of marketing.


Kinesix developed SAMMI as a rapid application development tool for displaying and
managing information graphically on diverse operating systems and hardware. It creates
graphical objects that change in real time as the information linked to those objects
changes.


NASA shuttle astronauts use it to change the graphics on their computer screens without
recompiling, relinking and retesting the underlying applications, Jamerson said.


SAMMI's graphical objects respond to data updates, events and commands. 'In
many cases, astronauts change the displays because they want to see a certain object or
color or movement,' he said.


The cross-platform graphical environment looks and behaves the same on each of the 15
Unix, Microsoft Windows NT and Java platforms it supports on the same network, Jamerson
said. But SAMMI is very large, totaling more than 1 million lines of C code, he said,
'with all sorts of redundancy and failover features, alarm systems and event
schedulers built in.'


NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is developing SAMMI interfaces to monitor
robotics workstations on the international space station.


SAMMI also rides on shuttle flights to control payload applications. Flight engineers
on the ground use it to monitor shuttle orbits, and NASA physicians use it to monitor the
life-science functions of the astronauts aboard.


Kinesix has competitors, such as DataViews of Corp. of Northampton, Mass., but
sometimes its most formidable competitors have been its own users, Jamerson said.


Before NASA began using SAMMI in the early 1990s, it had developed its own in-house
tool that gathered data from various network sources to make tabular displays. NASA today
is like every other government organization, however; it buys commercial tools to save
money and time.


Kinesix officials want a new role for SAMMI in the Federal Aviation
Administration's modernization plans. Systems integrators under contract to FAA are
evaluating several hardware and software products, including SAMMI, for upgrading the air
traffic control system, Jamerson said.


The company recently added a number of standard information system technologies to make
SAMMI more useful as a general-purpose tool. For example, a .dxf converter imports files
generated by AutoCAD from Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif.


SAMMI can 'inherit' the .dxf files and change them in response to real-time
data, Jamerson said.


The SAMMI Application Development Kit is $10,000 in versions for Unix, Microsoft
Windows NT or Java.

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