The MERBoard: A Multi-Mission Platform for Collaborative Mission Control Applications

Jay Trimble,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University April 9, 2004

The Mars Exploration Rovers are among the most operationally challenging planetary exploration vehicles ever launched by NASA. Each day, scientists and engineers collaborate to analyze data, develop science plans and priorities, and uplink sequences of commands to both rovers to carry out the instructions of their caretakers on Earth.

The daily science and engineering process is supported by software tools and operational procedures. In January of 2001, NASA's Ames Research Center began work on a human centered computing (HCC) project. The goal of the HCC project was to use observational methods to assess where the operations team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab could use new tools and procedures to increase the productivity of the operations process.

Based on observations of the rover science team operating a field test rover, and in collaboration with IBM's Blueboard Project, the MER HCC Project developed the MERBoard, a new class of software platform for collaborative and group use. The MERBoard software runs on large touchscreen plasma displays that are situated throughout the MER Mission Support Areas where the operations teams work. Basic functions of each board include a whiteboard and drawing tools, remote access and control, and a web browser for data access. Each board is customized for the mission environment using plug-ins for specialized functions, such as flow charting rover strategic plans. Observations of mission use reveal patterns of use that serve as lessons learned in the development of future situated display technologies.

Jay Trimble is Computer Scientist, NASA ARC, Group Lead of Ubiquitous Computing and User Centered Design Group. Project Lead for Mission Control Technologies initiative. MCT is a new framework for the creation of mission systems using collaborative component technologies. At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory he was Operations Director for Shuttle Imaging Radar-C, managed design and development of mission operations system and payload operations control center for an Earth Observing Radar that flew two successful missions on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Science support team member for the Voyager Neptune Encounter in 1989. At NASA Johnson Space Center he had a payload operations position in the mission control center. Developed checklists, procedures, command and control interfaces and displays for the operation of payloads on the Shuttle


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