Can Cloud Computing Aid NASA in its Search for Life?
NASA is constantly looking for ideas and technologies that will help in its quest for extraterrestrial life, and cloud can be one technology that has the capability to aid this search.
In fact, NASA understands the potential of cloud, and this is why its chief technology and innovation officer, Tom Soderstrom, visited the re:Invent conference hosted by Amazon Web Services. Already the two organizations have started working together on a number of projects, and their partnership is likely to extend to more projects in the future too.
Here’s a look at how cloud technologies play a crucial role in some of NASA’s projects.
Surface Water ocean Topography (SWOT)
The mission of this program is to make the first global survey of Earth’s water from space, to get a better understanding of oceans and Earth’s terrestrial water levels. This project involves both US and French oceanographers, and could provide much-needed answers to meet the water needs of an ever-growing population. This project generates about 100 TB of data a day, or about 100GB a second. It’s impossible for data centers to handle such large amounts of information, so NASA is taking the help of cloud providers to store and analyze this data.
NASA-ISRO SAR Mission (INSAR)
Like SWOT, this program also plans to record the impact of climate change, and even predict the occurrence of natural hazards with greater precision. INSAR is a joint program between NASA and India’s Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). This project is already operational, and is expected to send large streams of data within the next few years. These data will also be stored and analyzed through cloud, as it’s too much for any single data center to handle.
Asteroid Redirect Mission
This is NASA’s first robotic mission to visit a large asteroid located near the Earth, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and redirect it into an orbit closer to the moon. This massive project is expected to be completed in 2020s, and is expected to provide data for a human mission to Mars in 2030s.
This project hasn’t started yet because NASA is looking for the perfect asteroid that is close to Earth, and one whose orbit can be redirected towards the moon. To identify this asteroid, NASA has to sift through tons of data and make complex calculations, and this is where cloud computing can help.
Europa is one of the moons on Jupiter that is completely covered with ice. NASA wants to explore the possibility of water below its frozen surface, and also even look for the presence of life here. The first step towards that goal is to select the right landing spot for a lander, so it can sample the surface and even possibly bring back some ice. Again, identifying this landing spot requires enormous calculations considering that Europa is the sixth-largest moon in our solar system.
In short, cloud can provide the storage and computing power that NASA needs to press ahead with its different programs.