Software with the right stuff wins NASA awards

Software with the right stuff wins NASA awards

NASA's Dr. Muriel Ross, top, and Rea Cheng use visual imaging software to study a skull and tissue.

The space agency honors its programmers for apps from remote aircraft control to telemedicine

By Frank Tiboni

GCN Staff

Software that can command a spacecraft millions of miles from Earth and an application that can predict the aging and failure of materials recently won NASA's 1999 Software of the Year awards.

Remote Agent, an application with an artificial intelligence component, controlled the Deep Space 1 spacecraft during a recent three-day experimental flight. The software detected, diagnosed and repaired programs, showing that it can keep a mission on track, said Pandu Nayak, deputy manager of Remote Agent development at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.

'The Remote Agent approach to spacecraft autonomy signals the dawn of a new era in space exploration,' Nayak said. 'Remote Agent will enable new classes of missions and more effective use of existing resources, and it will enable today's ground operations teams to operate significantly more missions.'

Turn it off, Hal

During one simulated failure, the camera on Deep Space 1 appeared to be stuck in the on position. Remote Agent formulated and executed a new way to turn off the camera and preserve the spacecraft's power, Nayak said.

Software teams at the Ames center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., developed Remote Agent.

The second winner, Genoa, simulates and predicts aging and failure in structural materials, including high-tech alloys and ceramics used in airplanes, cars, engines and bridges.

Genoa's progressive failure analysis can predict the crack initiation, growth and final failure of monolithic and composite materials.

NASA's Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland began developing Genoa in the 1970s. The software went on the market last year.

NASA gave runner-up honors to three programs:
''n'The Generic Inferential Executor, developed at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Genie is an intelligent graphical tool for monitoring and decision-making under the strict time constraints of space flight.

' Enigma Software Tools, developed by the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Enigma lets NASA scientists create spacecraft and other hardware simulations.

' Virtual Interactive Imaging and Cybersurgery for Distant Healthcare, developed at Ames. This toolkit provides high-resolution, near-real-time rendering of medical images for doctors who are thousands of miles from patients.

The space agency gave honorable mention awards to three programs:

' Alliance Flowfield Simulation System, developed jointly by the NPARC Alliance of the Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Center, Boeing Co. and the Glenn Research Center. The simulation tool can create multizone models that incorporate turbulence and chemistry factors.

' Automated Scheduling and Planning Environment, developed at JPL. ASPEN provides a set of reusable software components for creating systems with complex planning and scheduling elements.

' Ring Buffered Network Bus Data Management System, developed by the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. This software server provides a buffered network data path for interapplication data traffic.

NASA chief information officer Lee B. Holcomb and Daniel R. Mulville, NASA's chief engineer and chairman of the agency's Inventions and Contributions Board, chose the winners based on the recommendations of a panel of software professionals.

More information about the winning software can be found on the Web at

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