The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), located on the rural outskirts of Canberra at Tidbinbilla, is one of only three NASA deep space tracking stations spread around the globe. On Sunday 18th August, as part of National Science Week they held their biennial ‘Space Open Day‘, affording a rare opportunity for visitors to tour areas of the facility that are normally off-limits to the public. My partner and I have recently joined the ranks of volunteers at CDSCC, and Space Open Day was to be our first outing in that role, along with a small team of new and long-time volunteers.
Our hour-long trek to the facility started bright and early (for a Sunday) in order to catch the volunteer briefing before the gates opened at 9am. Briefing done, it was time to head ‘front of house’ to greet the incoming visitors and attend to our rostered duties. Throughout the day, visitors were able to hop on a bus tour of the entire complex, join a guided walking tour of “the big dish” (DSS-43), and complete a self-guided walk to the dish for fantastic photo opportunities. In addition, the Visitor Centre displays, video presentations, and hands-on computer terminals were available as normal.
Special talks were conducted throughout the day, with Education & Outreach Manager Glen Nagle first talking about CDSCC’s crucial role in the recent launch and landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, ‘Curiosity’, on Mars. CSIRO held a ‘Tweetup’ for the launch of Curiosity in November 2011, and a followup public event for the audacious landing in August the following year. (While guests were enthralled watching the Curiosity mission unfold, CDSCC staff were hard at work receiving telemetry and tracking data direct from the spacecraft and relaying it to Mission Control at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, California.) Later in the day, Mike Dinn gave a talk on the Apollo missions. Mike was a technician at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station during the Apollo era, and it was a real treat for centre visitors to be able to hear about that iconic period of spaceflight from someone who actually worked on the missions.
I was awake at stupid o’clock last Sunday morning to watch NASA’s livestream of the launch of the HTV-4 resupply vehicle. At precisely 05:48:46AM AEST, JAXA H-IIB F4 launch vehicle lifted off smoothly en route to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). The 5.4 tonne payload comprised all the usual suspects: water, replacement and upgraded electronics for various ISS systems, spares for major station components, and new equipment and supplies for experiments.
Nestled in amongst the other cargo were four tiny ‘CubeSats’, two of which were funded by a Kickstarter project: ArduSat. These tiny satellites are the first example of crowdfunded space operations, and represent an exciting new development in the recent popularisation of ‘citizen science’.
Commercial satellite launches are immensely expensive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars using current rocket-based technology. The idea behind the ArduSat project is to provide low-cost access to real, orbiting satellites to students and space enthusiasts. By designing payloads small enough to fit into gaps in the main cargo area, innovative satellite operators are able to hitch a ride on commercial space launches at a fraction of the cost. The dramatic cost reduction has finally made it viable to create an orbiting educational platform, a remarkable achievement.
During the last week of January, approximately 700 IT professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists descended on Canberra to jointly create an intensive learning experience. Each year the call goes out across the intertubes to gather together open source geeks for Linux Conference Australia. Linux.conf.au, or simply LCA, is one of the largest open source conferences in the southern hemisphere, and one of the most highly-regarded conferences of its kind in the world. I was excited to attend LCA2013, as it was my first LinuxConf, despite being involved to a modest degree in the Linux and open source community for at least the last 15 years.
Most days, the programme commenced with a keynote address by an IT industry luminary who had made a significant contribution to computer technology and open source. At every keynote address, the lower level of ANU’s Llewellyn Hall was packed with delegates, each toting a selection of wifi- or 3G-enabled devices. While I saw a healthy 55Mbps idle capacity on the Internet link provided by conference organisers (ably assisted by the network engineers at AARNET), once the assembled cohort of digital natives hit the link, all of that that capacity was rapidly utilised.
The conference was opened on the Monday by Bdale Garbee, recently-retired Open Source & Linux Chief Technologiest at Hewlett-Packard, and a long-time contributor to the Debian Linux distribution. (Read Kelly Burnes’ article about Bdale at LCA2013 over at Australian Science, where you can also watch their video interview.)
A little before 9am on Tuesday 29th January, I filed into ANU’s Llewellyn Hall along with approximately 700 other Linux.conf.au delegates to listen to the daily keynote speech. I’m now a little embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Radia Perlman. A little over an hour later, I was a fangirl.
Radia delivered an engaging, funny, and highly-technical keynote address at LCA2013, and the audience of IT professionals and enthusiasts present lapped it up. In it, she placed the technical details of the network protocols she and her colleagues developed in an historical context. She half-jokingly explained that this was the only way in which anyone could hope to understand why the protocols we work with today include ‘features’ in their design that would otherwise seem crazy to an outside observer.
In delivering her keynote, Radia gave us not just the technical detail behind the development of networking protocols, but also wove in details from her creative side, as well as tidbits about her children’s involvement in her technical life. The crowd was delighted as Radia shared with us the poem that she created (an ‘Algorhyme’) shortly after devising the Spanning Tree Protocol in 1985 while at DEC. For as she says, “Every algorithm deserves an algorhyme…” (You can hear Radia reciting her AlgoRhyme in Dan’s video interview with Radia over at Australian Science, and read the text here.) There is also a recording of Radia’s daughter, Dawn Perlner, singing the Algorhyme set to music by Radia’s son, Ray Perlner. Radia also mentioned her son Ray’s involvement in the creation of an AlgoRhyme V2 to mark the creation of her most recent network protocol, TRILL.