After traveling through space for over 200 days, the NASA Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars on February 21, 2021. The NASA Perseverance rover will provide us with detailed images of never before seen areas of Mars. This important mission was a success due to the efforts of many different researchers, but one important group to highlight is the computer scientists tasked with working on the project. Computer scientists and the field of computer science are critical to unmanned space missions because it helps to bridge the gap between the goal of the mission and the technical components that are needed to achieve that goal. Skills learned in a computer science program such as EKU’s online computer science master’s degree program allow computer scientists to conduct the important field work in NASA’s missions.
The computer scientists working on Perseverance utilized the latest secure programming methods to ensure that the coding of the rover was protected. The rover did not need to be protected just from outside hackers though, but also from bugs that could be introduced by future updates and from the harsh Mars environment. To do this, computer scientists used Linux operating systems to power the autonomous helicopter components of Perseverance. Linux systems are well known for their reliability and stability, even after updates. The autonomous helicopter component alone is significant because it will be the first use of autonomous machinery on another planet.
The rover will analyze the environmental components of the planet, including searching for microorganisms, using artificial intelligence. None of this would have been possible without the help of well-trained computer scientists. This amazing accomplishment also shows why it is important for computer science students to be well-rounded in both the software and hardware requirements of a system. EKU’s online computer science master’s degree program offers coursework that covers all of these skills and more.
By: Thomas W. Morris, B.S. Computer Science & Psychology, Eastern Kentucky University