January 13, 2004

Enjoying NASA's Maestro on your Linux desktop

Author: Joe Barr

I decided to download Maestro, the software NASA uses to control the Mars rover Spirit, right after reading about the project on Slashdot last week. Thousands of others were doing the same thing, so given the size of the download -- more than 45 megabytes -- and the speed of the transfer from the mirror I selected, I decided to leave it running and go to bed. Once it finished, it was easy to get running, and the results were out of this world. Updated

Here's how easy it was to install and begin using on Linux. First of all, don't even begin unless you have the Java runtime on your system. On my Mandrake 9.2 desktop, JRE 1.4.2_01 was already in place. Your mileage may vary depending on the flavor of Linux you're running. Here's one place you can get the Java runtime environment (JRE) if you don't already have it installed. Update: Ignore everything I said about getting Java. The Maestro download includes its own JRE.

There are two or three downloads that you will want to get from the NASA Maestro site. The first one, the large one, is Maestro-Linux.tar.gz. When you have that, decompress it using the command tar xzf Maestro-Linux.tar.gz;
That will unpack the tarball and create a subdirectory called R2004_01-Public-Linux. To install the application, go into that subdirectory, change to root, and run ./install-Maestro

The installation script allows you to choose the installation directory and specify a user other than root with authority to update. I went with the default choice of /var for the destination and left the update authority as root. When the script finishes, you can start the application by entering the command SAP, but it won't do you much good until you've downloaded the mission data.

Go back to the Maestro download page and grab the data download. It won't take nearly as long as the application itself. Be careful to grab the appropriate version for your platform. Once you have that in hand, the next step is to decompress it in the right location.

The right place depends on where you put the application itself. I put it in /var, so that's where I decompressed the tarball. You should move into the subdirectory where you installed the software and deflate the tarball there. You'll probably need to be root to do so. For example, as the superuser I entered:

cd /var
tar xzf ~/downloads/Maestro-Update01-LinuxAndSolaris.tar.gz

I mentioned two or three downloads. You can jump into the application immediately or you can download the Maestro user's manual from the NASA site and peruse it first.

The first image alongside shows what the opening screen looks like. You don't want to stay there long. You want to see the Mars photos. To do that, click on the bar marked "Go to Spirit's Landing Site."

That starts the Conductor application, which allows you to view data from the Mars probe the same way NASA's engineers are viewing it. It's like a Web photo gallery on steroids. You can forward and reverse the tour and zoom in and out to your heart's content.

By the way, The IRC channel (#maestro on irc.freenode.net) for Maestro is crowded and friendly and has several NASA folk there to answer questions about the project. The most popular discussion this morning, when more than 150 were on the channel, was the length of time it took for commands sent from the control center to reach Mars -- nine minutes, if I recall correctly. But the point is, that's another great resource for enjoying the fruits of the mission on your Linux desktop.


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