Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fedora on the Final Frontier

There has been a long standing rumor regarding NASA running Fedora which all of us in the Fedora community have been always intrigued by. Is it true? What are they doing with it there? Why don't they run RHEL. Fortunately enough, a couple of weeks ago, I got to experience NASA behind the scenes, first hand, and hang out with the coolest members of the Fedora community, and find out the answer to these questions and lots more.

A big "THANK YOU" goes out to Jim Dumoulin and the guys from the NASA Telescience Lab.

Needless to say this was possibly one of the most awesomest days of my life. Let's go to the tape:

This is where it all began. Usually it takes 24-48 hours to get security clearance. Of course I got hooked up in only 4 on my drive down from Jacksonville, not including a 45 minute delay once I arrived due to a windows server running the badge printing machines being down. I was quite glad to have passed security clearance. The Feds ain't got nothin' on me. Whew!

{Photo of Security ID had to be removed at NASA's Request}
Security Clearance. Sweet!!

Everything started at the famous Operations and Checkout building where they do many many NASA-y things. Seeing as that I didn't get a good picture of the whole building I should mention that the building is HUGE and it serves many functions. Primarily, they process horizontal payloads going to space, whether on the Shuttle or some other rocket/rlv. The building also houses a lot of technology related infrastructure, which we will get into in a bit. Most importantly, or most cool I should say, this is where the Astronauts live while at Kennedy Space Center:

Under lock and key.

Below are a few miscellaneous photos of stuff around the Ops and Checkout building:

STS-112 was in space while I was there, so this banner was put up before they departed to show support.

This is the famous door where the Astronauts exit to load onto the bus to the shuttle. The bar you see on top is where all the TV cameras are usually mounted.

Astronaut Parking Only. Oddly enough, despite my vehement protest that I am a space cadet, they refused to let me park here. Maybe someday...

Now on to the good stuff.
Fedora at NASA: It Does Exist!

A video distribution and streaming system. You'll see the server shortly.

Okay, so as it turns out, NASA is using Fedora and RHEL. A Lot! I was taken into the data center of the Telescience Lab, and got to see some machines. This is but a fraction of whats going on. I was happy to find out that Fedora is being used to help shuffle the above video streams around. You can get to the server here. Most of this stuff is what ends up on NASA TV.

A video feed coming off the server, this was live footage of one of the spacewalks. It gets distributed from here to a few places, including Mission Control in Houston and of course NASA TV.

These servers run a few things at the lab, including video distribution, data processing, and web serving. Wanna know what its running?


Shadowman lurking in the dark corners of NASA.

This is an SGI supercomputer, 512 processors, more RAM than I can remember, running IRIX which does data analysis. Telescience provides telemetry data to Launch Control, and its all sourced from here. Nothing to do with Fedora, but still cool for geekdom at large. THIS has a fat pipe.

These systems were most likely built by Fedora release engineer Jesse Keating while he was working for Pogo Linux. These run Fedora. When they had to analyze the data and photos from the Columbia crash, NASA would move data from permanent storage onto these servers for analysis. Jesse told me about this and I was very skeptical, so I asked and it turns out to be very true. I was very proud to know, and we should all be very proud, that our community is making software that is helping make the future of space exploration safer.

If it ain't broke, don't upgrade it, right? Actually one of the guys in the lab told me they are in the process of upgrading to Fedora 8 and playing with 9 alpha.

This is a blade server running Fedora which runs NASA's countdown server. So what is this server you ask? So the actual time source for the launch countdown is the atomic clock but there are a few sources at NASA which sync to it and each other to provide launch services. This is one of them. Actually this is THE public facing countdown time source. If you click that main Telescience Lab link all the way above, this server is where alot of those links on that page land. They also have a page for ELV/RLV countdowns as well.

This is Jim, the director of the Telescience lab, at the command console in the lab.

This is me at the original command console desk from the Apollo era. That black and white photo shows everyone huddled around it back in the day.

This is the famous Shuttle assembly and prep building where they turn the Shuttle vertical and connect it to the rockets and put it on the transporter.

The Shuttle transporter. This things was as large as a city. It was actually headed out to the launchpad which as Jim explained was odd since we were in the middle of a bad weather warning and there was lightning and no apparent reason for this beast to be heading in that direction.

A pic of the transporters cab as we drove by.

This is a picture of the same building from the side showing Launch Control (the small building there). Those tracks are the from the transporter.

The countdown clock from a distance.

Launchpad B. Unfortunately, due to the lightning, we were unable to get any closer. I hope one day I get to go back and take some more pictures off the launchpad.

This is me on the inside of the door where the Astronauts come out to load onto the bus to the Shuttle. Many a great person have stood in this spot. I claimed it in the name of Fedora and was quickly then asked politely asked to leave the building. Just Kidding!

Reality hit when I saw this. See that text that says "You are Here?" Well if you've ever seen a Red Hat video, many of them end with that, and it sent a chill down my spine to see it there with in the same font nonetheless. It got me thinking about our community and how as people, we really imitate the vast mechanics of space and our universe. As a community, each interaction is like another collision of asteroids, another chance for something to take root. Another chance for a planet to come to life.

I've been involved in Fedora since Day -1 (RHL and RHLP). Looking back at everything that we've gone through and where we are now continues to amaze me, but above all else, the members of our community and their passion, their persistence and insistence on making those collisions gain momentum truly inspires me. Considering everything we have been through, success and strife, triumphs and tribulations, promises we made and followed through on, promises we made that fell through, how much we have learned and how much everyone in the community has gained as a result, being able to walk into a place like NASA with an open armed welcome, makes me damn proud to be part of this.

Look what we have done, but more importantly, look what we've enabled! That's been our goal all along and I think we have done it well. Some people have been to space, we enable others to go to space. We are the platform that dreams are built on. Not just our own dreams, but the dreams of all humanity.

Next time I see "You are Here" I think I can take a little more pride in answering, "Yes, yes I am." I for one am proud to call our planet, the Fedora Planet, my planet and my community.