Simulation may be the last image of Lander

Simulation may be the last image of Lander

Although NASA last week gave up hope of hearing from its Mars Polar Lander, users can still simulate programming the lander's robotic arm and camera movements by downloading free Java software developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

JPL's Paul Backes said future NASA missions would use the Web Interface for Telescience (WITS) software to study downlinked images and to change equipment settings. The publicly downloadable WITS has different commands from NASA's version for security reasons, he said.

It's the first time NASA has distributed a real mission operations tool, he said.

Java was chosen for development, he said, because it finds all coding bugs at compile time, which is essential for mission-critical software.

The Java 2-D, 3-D and WITS applets for Microsoft Windows are downloadable in zipped form from a Web site sponsored by Sun Microsystems Inc. The applets require about 12M of disk space.

To download them, go to A tutorial on using the applets appears at

If the solar-powered lander had survived, its robotic arm would have scooped up soil and rock fragments for onboard analysis of trapped carbon dioxide and water. The results would have been downlinked once per day to Earth, a transmission that takes roughly 30 minutes.


  • business meeting (Monkey Business Images/

    Civic tech volunteers help states with legacy systems

    As COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in state and local government IT systems, the newly formed U.S. Digital Response stepped in to help. Its successes offer insight into existing barriers and the future of the civic tech movement.

  • data analytics (

    More visible data helps drive DOD decision-making

    CDOs in the Defense Department are opening up their data to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that help surface insights and improve decision-making.

Stay Connected