Nasa engineers are using sophisticated visualisation technology to remotely pilot its two Mars Exploration Rovers, including Spirit which recently landed on the surface of the red planet.
The biggest issues facing the scientists at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are associated with communicating across 106 million miles of space to the remote controlled vehicles.
The system is based around a 'virtual Mars' built on SGI Onyx 300 systems and the OpenGL Performer graphics APIs to combine 360-degree photographic images taken each morning by the Spirit Rover with terrain data.
Using the visualisation kit the scientists can generate a 3D simulacrum of the surrounding Martian geography with an interactive model of the Spirit Rover.
Using this model the engineers can safely pilot the Rover while compensating for round-trip space communication lag times of up to 20 minutes.
Each of the laboratory's two SGI Onyx 300 supercomputers has a dual-pipeline SGI InfiniteReality4 graphics subsystem.
Nasa is using one system to help pilot the Spirit Rover and the other will pilot the Opportunity Rover, which is due to land on 24 January on the other side of the planet.
Paul McNamara, senior vice president and general manager at SGI's visual systems group, said: "Not surprisingly, Nasa has once again uncovered some of the most exciting and fundamentally important uses for computer graphics."
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