Spaceborne Computer stand seen MWC trade show this week. Credit: Paco Freire/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Somebody needs to convince Matt Damon to make a movie about getting the Spaceborne Computer back to Earth. The Linux device is comprised of two Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) servers that, according to the BBC, should have returned three months ago but are instead stranded in space with no guaranteed way to get back.
Alright, so that movie probably wouldn't do as well as the film adaptation of The Martian, which saw Damon portray an astronaut stranded on Mars. But retrieving these servers could be important to NASA's plan to visit the red planet around 2030. Something like the Spaceborne Computer will be required for that mission. The International Space Station (ISS) currently transmits data to Earth for processing. Instead of the one-second trip from the ISS to Earth, though, sending data from Mars could take about 40 minutes. That means NASA would need a system that can handle lots of data and withstand Mars' environmental conditions but that requires as little work as possible.
HPE told the BBC that it met those goals with a pair of servers that cost "thousands of dollars" instead of the $8 million price tag (and decade of development) associated with the ISS' original computer trio. The servers were mostly off-the-shelf, too, less a radiator designed to take advantage of the ISS' cooling system.
Here's the good news: both servers remain operational some 530-odd days after their August 2017 trip up to the ISS. As noted above, the original goal was to bring them back to Earth three months ago, so their continued operation is a good sign of their ability to work without a lot of maintenance.
The BBC said a Russian rocket failure in October 2018 delayed the servers' return flight. HPE senior content architect Adrian Kasbergen told the BBC that "right now they haven’t got a ticket" back to Earth, but the hope is to bring them back in June 2019. In the meantime, well, maybe Damon will rally behind the servers.