Press Release

NASA Enhances Mars Center’s Capability With West Coast’s Largest SGI Reality Center

By SpaceRef Editor
March 9, 2004
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Enabled by
powerful graphics supercomputing technology from Silicon Graphics,
NASA Ames Research Center is providing visitors with a unique opportunity to
view NASA’s latest achievements, including images from the surface of Mars, as
they have never been seen. Working in concert with SGI® Professional
Services, NASA Ames has installed its Mars Center theater — the West Coast’s
largest SGI® Reality Center® facility, capable of immersing audiences in
interactive 3D visualizations, multimedia presentations, and panoramic images
that can be navigated in real-time.

NASA’s new Reality Center features a curved display measuring 14 feet tall
and 36 feet wide. The screen is powered by an SGI® Onyx® 350 with 3 fully
loaded InfiniteReality4(TM) graphics pipes and 12 R16000(TM) MIPS®
processors. Each graphics pipe comes with 1GB of dedicated texture memory
enabling massive amounts of imagery to be visualized in an immersive
environment. The Onyx® system provides a seamless image across the three
projectors that are used to create the sense of being on the surface of Mars.
The seamless image enables current NASA Mars Center staff to interact with
these enormous 3D models based on the latest images from JPL by quickly
panning and zooming with simple mouse movements.

Designed to spotlight NASA’s contributions to space exploration, Earth
sciences, and the Silicon Valley technology community, the new Mars Center has
quickly become a popular Bay Area attraction since the recent landings of the
Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers. Over the past several weeks,
more than 50,000 students, teachers, and area residents have witnessed NASA’s
history-making achievements up close, with SGI® visualization technology
helping to give them a view of Mars that no still image, television news
report or small-format panorama can possibly match. In the future, the Mars
Center may also offer additional presentations designed to provide a behind
the scenes perspective on the amazing projects on which NASA is working. These
inspirational presentations will educate the public about
the value of NASA’s contributions to our society. Examples include projects
such as Future Flight Central, which is developing new ways to improve safety
and efficiency at commercial airports, and the computational fluid dynamics
studies underway at NASA Ames’ supercomputing facility.

“The NASA Ames Mars Center is a resounding success, allowing anyone to
virtually stand on the Red Planet and take in its alien landscape,” said
Scott Hubbard, director of NASA Ames Research Center. “As we work on future
NASA exploration and research missions — including human space flight — we
look forward to continued collaborations with SGI.”

The Mars Center opens its current Mars presentation with a multimedia
program produced by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) tracing man’s
earliest observations of the Red Planet through NASA’s series of Mars
exploration missions. Afterward, Mars Center guests view the latest
high-resolution Mars images and panoramas downloaded from JPL. Every day,
mission control engineers at JPL’s Pasadena, Calif., mission control facility
receive 168 separate photographs snapped by each Mars Rover. NASA engineers
then stitch together the images to create 360-degree panoramas so large that
they contain over 50 times more detail than previous NASA panoramic images.
While JPL relies on the stereographic images to determine driving routes for
the Rovers, NASA Ames can use them to give the public a rare close-up look at
the surface of a planet 106 million miles from Earth. Mars Center visitors use
stereographic images to view the Martian panoramas in even greater depth and

NASA Mars Mission Relies on SGI

NASA depended on SGI technology throughout the planning and execution of
the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission. At JPL, NASA scientists and
engineers used four SGI® Origin® 2000 series servers to study and select
MER landing sites. NASA used the systems — driven by a total of 302
processors — for descent analysis, trajectory studies, and other
compute-intensive tasks. MER mission planners had to balance the concerns of
scientists seeking geological “sites of interest” — where Rovers were most
likely to find evidence of water — with the need for safe landings. This is
particularly vital on a planet with mountains reaching up to 16 miles high and
a string of canyons nearly 2,500 miles long and five miles deep.

“SGI has worked closely with NASA to fuel the kind of innovation and
discovery that has defined both organizations throughout their 20-year
collaboration,” said Bob Bishop, chairman and CEO, SGI. “SGI is committed to
serving customers whose mission-critical applications demand real-time big
data machines. We are delighted to be a part of yet another thrilling NASA
mission, and we eagerly anticipate the discoveries that await us in the years
to come.”

SGI visualization technology also is helping NASA engineers safely pilot
the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers while compensating for round-trip space
communication lag times of up to 20 minutes. JPL is using SGI® Onyx® 300
InfiniteReality4 graphics systems and the OpenGL Performer(TM) real-time
graphics API to combine daily 360-degree photographic images with terrain data
to create a virtual Mars environment. This environment integrates the 3D
visualization of the surrounding Martian geography with an interactive model
of each Rover. As a result, NASA engineers can safely pilot the vehicles
across rocky Martian terrain.

SGI Reality Center

SGI Reality Center immersive visualization facilities have spawned a whole
new world of creative possibilities in planetariums, science centers, and
museums. For the first time ever, people have the ability to explore the
universe, fly through a strand of DNA, stroll through a virtual model of an
Egyptian tomb, and examine minute details of priceless works of art — all
interactively. A new level of interactive education has made its debut. First
developed ten years ago, Reality Center facilities allow teams of technical
and creative professionals to engage in interactive, real-time engineering and
design review, data analysis, critical training, presentation, or command-and-
control operations. Collaborative teams are immersed in virtual environments
that allow them to explore, understand, and communicate about data in ways not
possible in the physical world. More than 630 Reality Center facilities are
installed worldwide.

About the NASA Ames Mars Center

Located near the main gate to NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field,
Calif., the Mars Center is open daily through June 2004. The center is closed
on federal holidays. Admission is free and open to the public. For
directions, hours and information on Mars Center exhibits, visit: .

SILICON GRAPHICS — The Source of Innovation and Discovery(TM)

SGI, also known as Silicon Graphics, Inc., is the world’s leader in
high-performance computing, visualization and storage. SGI’s vision is to
provide technology that enables the most significant scientific and creative
breakthroughs of the 21st century. Whether it’s sharing images to aid in brain
surgery, finding oil more efficiently, studying global climate or enabling the
transition from analog to digital broadcasting, SGI is dedicated to addressing
the next class of challenges for scientific, engineering and creative users.
With offices worldwide, the company is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif.,
and can be found on the Web at

NOTE: Silicon Graphics, SGI, Reality Center, Onyx, Origin,
InfiniteReality, OpenGL, the SGI cube and the SGI logo are registered
trademarks and InfiniteReality4, OpenGL Performer and The Source of Innovation
and Discovery are trademarks of Silicon Graphics, Inc., in the United States
and/or other countries worldwide. MIPS is a registered trademark and R16000 is
a trademark of MIPS Technologies, Inc., used under license by Silicon
Graphics, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries worldwide. All
other trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.

SpaceRef staff editor.