NASA dons red and blue cardboard 3D glasses to drive Curiosity rover because its GPUs are stuck in the office

Can: Send rover to Mars and operate it from home. Can't: Remote in to mission PCs or replicate them in the cloud


NASA has reverted to using old-school red and blue 3D glasses to direct the Curiosity rover around Mars.

The downgrade was necessary as the space agency's staff have been sent to work from home. When in-office, staff who operate the Curiosity peruse 3D images of the red planet through special goggles that rapidly shift between left-and-right-eye views to better reveal the contours of the landscape. Viewing images with that eye-wear makes it easier to plan where to send the rover or move its arms.

But, according to a post on the NASA website, the rover operators cannot use these goggles on their home set ups because the PCs that power them require "advanced graphics cards in high-performance computers at [Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the mission is based] (they're actually gaming computers repurposed for driving on Mars)."

In order for the rover operators to view the 3D images on their stock standard laptops, they are instead using simple red-blue 3D glasses, similar to those offered for free at cinemas.

"Although not as immersive or comfortable as the goggles, they work just as well for planning drives and arm movements," the post says.

The solution is admirably low tech, but The Reg is curious why NASA, which has a budget of $22.6bn for this year, appears to have essentially admitted that it cannot remote into the high-performance PCs or create a GPU-packing virtual desktop in the cloud.

Nonetheless, two days after the team cleared out of the office, they successfully operated Curiosity to drill a rock sample at a location called "Edinburgh". The sample is the first time the rover has drilled sandstone since a new drilling method was developed in 2018.

"It's classic, textbook NASA," said the team's leader, Alicia Allbaugh. "We're presented with a problem and we figure out how to make things work. Mars isn't standing still for us; we're still exploring." ®

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