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How Docker Is Helping to Save The World (Literally)

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted June 14, 2018


SAN FRANCISCO — There are many different things that individuals might consider to be a life-threatening event, and then there are extinction-level events — for example, an asteroid hitting Earth.

While the idea of an asteroid hitting Earth and ending all life is the stuff of Hollywood movies like Armageddon, it's an actual, though remote, possibility NASA is investigating, with the help of Docker containers.

NASA is currently developing a mission known as DART — the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — a spacecraft that will deploy a kinetic-impact technique to deflect an asteroid. Christopher Heistand, DART Flight Software Lead at the The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which is helping build the DART ship, detailed how his group is using Docker.

The technical challenge is immense to say the least.

"We are going to hit the asteroid at 17 times the speed of a speeding bullet, and we're going to hit something about the size of a football field."

The promise of DART and the software development team Heistand leads is to validate that a kinetic impact technique will work on an asteroid if it's coming to hit earth.

Why Docker?

Among the challenges of space are radiation, vacuum, distance, compute and memory constraints. Additionally, Heistand noted that currently there are no "space mechanics," and unlike an unresponsive cell phone, you can't just simply turn a spacecraft on and off in the empty void of space.

The actual hardware DART will be flying with is expensive, so what APL has done is use a system that enables a developer workflow with Docker. Going a step beyond just development, Heistand said DART can have VNC for remote access into the system components of the ship as well.

"Space is hard, and our software team wanted to make it easier for us," Heistand said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at ServerWatch and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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