Cloud in action, in a cool way: NASA uses Amazon to stream Mars video

Curiosity's descent onto Mars and follow-up imagery are being hosted in the cloud.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

NASA has been renting cloud power to stream video of Curiosity's adventures on Mars, as reported by Amazon Web Services.

ZDNet colleague Rachel King provides an overview of how NASA is employing AWS. The Mars video, available for real-time viewing on the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, is structured to support hundreds of thousands of concurrent visitors.

NASA did not have this capability within its own system, and plans to keep using AWS to automate the analysis of images from Mars, "maximizing the time that scientists have to identify potential hazards or areas of particular scientific interest," AWS says. "As a result, scientists are able to send a longer sequence of commands to Curiosity that increases the amount of exploration that the Mars Science Laboratory can perform on any given sol (Martian day)."

NASA is no stranger to cloud computing.  The agency has been partnering with cloud infrastructure provider RackSpace for some time now, and was instrumental in designing and launching the OpenStack open source cloud operating system in conjunction with the vendor.

Of course, this is a huge endorsement of the potential of cloud computing -- one of the world's most highly advanced scientific and engineering organizations is entrusting more and more functions to the cloud.

In the case of Curiosity, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used AWS sites all over the world to stream the images and video associated with the landing. AWS claims NASA was able to build and test the system within a matter of weeks, employing a combination of Adobe Flash Media Server, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances running a nginx caching tier, Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Route 53 for DNS management, Amazon CloudFront for content delivery, and AWS CloudFormation to automate the deployment of live video streaming infrastructure stacks across regions.
Shortly before the landing, NASA/JPL provisioned stacks of AWS infrastructure, each capable of handling 25 Gbps of traffic. The agency used Amazon CloudWatch to monitor spikes in traffic volume and provision additional capacity based on regional demand. As traffic volumes returned to normal hours after the landing, NASA/JPL used AWS CloudFormation to de-provision resources using a single command.
The mars.jpl.nasa.gov website is based on the open-source Content Management System (CMS) Railo, running on Amazon EC2.

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