By Jessie Kielma - Social Media Administrator
A dog and a robot walk into a bar…well, not exactly. However, the mechanics of that friendship would presumably be just as intricate and delicate as the relationship of vision and engineering that went into the creation of NASA’s extraordinary piece of technology Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. I have heard skeptics make the statement of why we spend so much money and concern on space when we have so many things to discover or problems to solve here on our home planet. Well, if thought about on a deeper level, we are all pieces of a wonderous universe that holds secrets that could very well bring betterment to our planet or to humanity. This could include curing a human health issue such as Alzheimer’s where we are missing that one tiny element with certain powers. Or discovering a substance or gas that could rejuvenate the air quality around the world within 10 years almost to be as clean as when earth came into existence. But how will we ever discover its hidden secrets that could help mankind if we don’t ‘think outside the ozone’? Plus, space is just really cool!!
Much like a discussion on the human brain, we could spend an unfathomable amount of time discussing our explorations, discoveries, knowledge, and questions that hold deep desires to gain answers when it comes to space and space exploration. But maybe we can get a small hint of flavor of what it is like to be involved in such an amazing field of work and study from a couple of BlueAlly’s very own who were involved in the creation of NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover. So, let us dig right into the dirt by way of an interview I held with Mr. Jim Arnold and Mr. Mike Bratton.
: Hello gentlemen. Thank you so much for making time to speak with me today. Hopefully together we can do some justice to the excitement of BlueAllys involvement in this project. Let’s begin with Mr. Jim Arnold. Jim, what do you do for BlueAlly and how long have you been working with us?
: I am a Senior Account Manager, which I consider to be more of a consultant or advisor to my customers, and I have been with BlueAlly since 2007.
: Fabulous!! And here we have Mr. Mike Bratton. Mike, what do you do for BlueAlly and how long have you been with the company?
: I am a Solutions Architect along with being Jim’s technical counterpart. I’ve been working for BlueAlly since 2008.
: Perfect!! I must say I am very proud to have you both on our team. Is this the first space or space exploration project that either of you have been involved in or have you gentlemen dabbled in this realm previously from either a BlueAlly opportunity or previous experience? Jim, would you like to go first?
: Of course, thank you. I have spent most of my IT career working with NASA. In 2000, Compaq Computer Corporation hired me as the Team Lead for all 11 of the NASA Centers in the United States and I continued in that role through the HP acquisition of Compaq. I stayed with HP until the middle of 2007 and then was hired by Net Direct Systems/BlueAlly where I continued to cover NASA in my BlueAlly role. During these past 21 years, I have had the privilege of working with NASA on many exciting space exploration projects including putting the first PDA devices in space, providing the technology for Mission Control, designing, and providing some of the technology for the critical satellite systems that communicate from deep space with Mission Control.
: Jim, that is so impressive and admittingly I am a little in awe at the moment. How fortunate to have those experiences. Apparently, you are looked upon as an asset when it comes to your IT knowledge and ability. Excellent!! And Mike, how about you?
: I’ve had the privilege of working with NASA since around 2012. I don’t always know what the technology is going to be used for, but there are some projects that stand out. For instance, several years ago, I conducted a proof of concept at the White Sands site to show that old HP-UX code could run on modern Itanium servers. More recently, in addition to the Mars mission, I was involved in a project related to the Sentinel-6 satellite launch that is being used today to monitor sea-level height.
: So, you have both space and earth experiences as far as technology involvement. And monitoring environmental activity is a very important daily process that require knowledgeable engineers such as yourself to keep humanity safe and healthy along with the environment. Another wonderful asset for the IT world. Bravo Mike!! Now, time to get to a little nitty gritty. How did BlueAlly become ‘the chosen one’ to be part of such an important and possibly historical event for America’s space program via the Mars Perseverance Rover Project?
: In early 2020, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory reached out to BlueAlly to assist them in designing and building the compute infrastructure for upcoming missions. These missions would include flights to Mars as well as rockets that would deploy various satellites.
: You say upcoming missions, plural. Does this mean that we may be fortunate enough to be involved in future space projects?
: Absolutely! The current plan is to continue building onto the new infrastructure so that each mission has the compute power and speed it needs to be successful. Keep in mind that these missions/flights can’t afford to experience any failures or downtimes, so the design and support of these systems is critical.
: That makes complete sense Jim. With BlueAlly designing and building the compute infrastructure, without getting too in depth as technology can do, what would you say are the main objectives or purposes of this compute infrastructure?
: The compute portion of the Mission Control Room would be where all of the flight telemetry would reside such as launching, landing, directional control, etc. I was selected as the lead engineer on the project, and I determined that the HPE Blade and Synergy Technologies were the best choice to meet JPL’s requirements. I designed the IT Compute Footprint for these missions along with the Disaster Recovery portion to ensure that there was no interruption during critical flight times. BlueAlly worked closely with the HPE NASA Account Team to ensure the design was accurate and that the technology was implemented properly and ready for the first mission.
: So far it seems as though you both make a solid team for projects such as this. And from all the things I’m seeing in the media, things are going great so far for the rover!! From both of your perspectives, what do you see as an asset that BlueAlly was able to bring to the table to obtain such a high-profile opportunity? Aside from the both of you, of course. Jim?
: In 2010 BlueAlly/Net Direct Systems was selected by United Space Alliance as the Partner/Vendor of the Year. United Space Alliance managed the Shuttle Program at that time. BlueAlly then provided a large portion of the IT Infrastructure for the Shuttle Program. In addition to all of this, we have supported the NASA Community since 2007, so I feel that we have established a good name for ourselves within NASA.
: I wasn’t here in the beginning so there were other engineers from BlueAlly that were involved. But Jim has been a constant and I think the history that he has with NASA and the relationships that he’s built and maintained over the years has been a huge asset.
: To close this interview, I would like to leave our readers with a little flavor of your outlook on space exploration as not just a company but as people. I can see how relationships are very much as asset to a project or event of this magnitude just as they are in smaller arenas. And it seems like you are the next additions to those essential relationships within NASA and NASA/JPL which is fantastic. As space exploration can be seen as an asset for the scientific and human communities, what are your hopes or curiosities about space exploration and what it will or has the potential to do for mankind or this vital planet in which we reside?
: Great question!! I think a lot about the unknowns of both space travel and its impact on the human body. For instance, in a non-gravity environment, what happens to the eyes, skin, bones, etc. over a 6 month – year time? Will a person age differently if they stay in space for a longer period of time? Are there virus’s that survive in space? I think the pursuit of this information is going to open new doors for our understanding of the human body and medicine.
: I think on the same level of the virus point as far as us making a connection to life on earth to elements or life in space. Such as viruses. If a virus that we can contract has to have oxygen to survive, then can it survive in space or does it mutate to survive much like human evolution? Or are there bacteria molecules or specimens that are able to be contained in space to fight disease here on earth? So many curiosities. Mike?
: I’ve been interested in Science and Astronomy since I was a child. It is the reason I studied Physics and Engineering in college. I’m also a huge Sci-Fi fan. I don’t think you can truly understand something unless you study it and explore it, and I have so many questions. By studying outer space, studying our own planet from space, and performing experiments in space, there is so much potential to learn more. What can we learn of our planet’s history, or the history of the solar system? What breakthroughs in medicine can be made? Can we get better at predicting the weather? What would it take for humans to live on Mars, or on the moon? What is dark matter? All these things are interesting to me. And I think there’s no limit to what mankind can achieve if we work together towards a common goal. It just takes dedication, hard work, and a lot of perseverance.
: I want to thank you both so much for everything that you do for BlueAlly, our customers and the IT arena along with spending time with me today. Hopefully, we will find the need to meet up again on another exciting expedition.
: It was our pleasure. Can’t wait for another adventure and a chance to speak on the experience. Thanks Jessie.
BlueAlly was only a small piece of the 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover Project but still a necessary one. Every individual, department, team, and business entity that had a hand in the current and progressive success of this mission has an integral part of this wonderous build and event. All of us at BlueAlly are expressively excited to be involved in such a project that not only gave us experience of working with technology that served such an amazing purpose but to also work with outstanding individuals and masters of their fields of study that most people don’t get an opportunity to work with. We enjoy the project and we enjoy the people. NASA and NASA/JPL have shown us that the sky is no longer the limit. The only limit is what we have in our minds and in our hearts which fortunately, these parts of every human being possess the ability to be expanded.
To expand our minds, we must increase our knowledge which comes from experiencing new and different things. For example, an IT engineer can work on a 5G cell tower that will allow us to communicate with other people and have faster connectivity and functionality in the palm of our hands through our cell phones. This same engineer can then assist in building a communications device for a robot that will travel to a distant planet or lie in hover amongst the stars that will essentially allow us to communicate with the universe. Even if it is a silent communication with a new element. Different experiences that provide different types of knowledge which can lead to the drive of wanting to do and learn more.
The expansion of our heart is the emotional understanding of the positive things that can be accomplished from such experiences. For example, having faster communication networks can get an ambulance to someone in need faster so they have a better chance of saving their life. Or the ability to communicate with our astronauts in outer space as they collect digital or physical data of their environment so we can ensure their safety during these expeditions and to bring home the possible earth environment healing data. Our hearts crave the knowledge that will create a better world and universe for all who reside within it. But we can’t do it on our own. We must work together as thought leaders and compassionate innovators that hold the ability to come together as a team to not only reach for the stars but to understand their nature that could possibly be used for the good of all.
I leave you with this. The next time you find yourself on a clear night with just the sounds of crickets and some rustling leaves from the slight breeze that is blowing, look up. Those specks of light aren’t just pretty particles to make us smile from the peace they bring. They just may hold the future survival of mankind. But, that is our mission, to discover and understand. So, a thank you to NASA and NASA/JPL for both bringing BlueAlly on as part of their 2020 Mars Perseverance Rover project and for everything they do that is beyond the rest of our reach. To soar with rockets, to discover with robots, and to give us the understanding that together with the human mind, the human heart, technology and the passion of progression, there is nothing we cannot do!! Thank you.