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August 5, 1999

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000


John G. Watson

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

Phone: 818/354-5011


Barbara L. Kakiris

NASA Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, Cleveland, OH

Phone: 216/433-2513




Remote Agent, the first artificial intelligence software in history to command a spacecraft millions of miles from Earth, and Genoa, a software package that can predict aging and failure of materials, including those used in airplanes, cars, engines and bridges, recently were named co-winners of NASA's 1999 Software of the Year award.

During three days last May, the Remote Agent software controlled the Deep Space 1 spacecraft, a feat previously accomplished only in science fiction. NASA scientists gave the software package command of Deep Space 1 during a flight experiment, and the artificial intelligence more than met expectations. The software detected, diagnosed and fixed problems, showing that it can make decisions to keep a mission on track. Remote Agent was developed at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA.

"The Remote Agent approach to spacecraft autonomy signals the dawn of a new era in space exploration," said Dr. Pandu Nayak, Ames deputy manager of Remote Agent development. "Remote Agent will enable new classes of missions and more effective use of existing resources; and it will enable today's ground operations teams to operate significantly more missions. Remote Agent and its components are already being considered for a variety of missions across the Agency."

"This technology will allow us to pursue Solar System exploration missions that only a few years ago would have been considered too elaborate, too costly or too dependent on teams of Earth-bound controllers," said Dr. Doug Bernard, JPL's Remote Agent manager.

NASA scientists say the artificial intelligence used on Deep Space 1 is the precursor for self-aware, self-controlled and self-operated robots, exploring rovers and intelligent machines.

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Experts from NASA Ames and JPL pooled their expertise to conduct Remote Agent, an experiment designed to push the limits of spacecraft autonomy. Their efforts proved that this sophisticated artificial intelligence software is capable of achieving high-level goals by issuing spacecraft commands.

To demonstrate Remote Agent's versatility, the tests threw unique challenges in the software's path: scientists created four simulated failures designed to test Remote Agent's abilities. During one of the simulated failures, the spacecraft's camera appeared to be stuck in the "on" position. In response, Remote Agent formulated and executed a new plan to turn off the camera and preserve the spacecraft's power.

An Internet web page contains logged events from Deep Space 1 during the ambitious artificial intelligence test:

Launched October 24, 1998, Deep Space 1 validated 12 new technologies, including Remote Agent, for use during science missions in the 21st century. The spacecraft has exceeded all of its technology validation success criteria. Deep Space 1, part of the New Millennium Program, is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC, by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

The other software co-winner, Genoa, is a Progressive Failure Analysis Software System developed at the NASA Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, OH. Genoa is used to model aging and failure in structural materials, including high-tech alloys and ceramics.

Another Ames set of software tools, developed for medical use, was a runner-up in the competition. The suite of medical software applications is designed to help doctors remotely treat patients in space and on Earth. Called "Virtual Interactive Imaging and Cybersurgery for Distant Healthcare," these software tools enable high resolution, near-real-time rendering of medical images for doctors located thousands of miles away from patients.

"The award focuses attention on how the information super highway of the future and wireless technology will improve the health care of those living in remote sites, whether they are astronauts on the moon or Mars, or ordinary people living in areas distant from metropolitan medical centers of expertise," said Dr. Muriel Ross, leader of the Ames effort to develop care of patients from a distance.

In May, doctors at five distant sites in the United States demonstrated how to use the NASA software to diagnose patients, practice operations and train, using 3-D medical images carried by a high-performance wide-area computer network. The images included 3-D, scanned images of patients' hearts, skulls and other body parts. On computer screens, doctors at the remote sites saw every procedure in stereo 3-D as each physician manipulated images of virtual patients.

"We're looking at methods to bring the clinic to the patient, rather than the patient to the clinic," said Ross. "We're supporting remote collaborations of doctors at different locations on Earth. This will prepare us to use the technology for spacecraft crews traveling to the International Space Station, Mars or other planets, where specialists may not be available."


The project linked Cleveland Clinic physicians at NASA Glenn with other health care specialists at Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA. In addition, doctors from Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, Salinas, CA, and the University of California, Santa Cruz participated. The Northern Navajo Medical Center, Shiprock, NM; and NASA Ames were also connected by the computer network. The concept and software are being developed at Ames' Center for Bioinformatics

More information about the Center for Bioinformatics is on the Internet at:

In addition to selecting Cybersurgery for Distant Healthcare for an award, NASA also chose two other software packages as runners-up: Generic Inferential Executor (Genie) from Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD; and Enigma Software Tools from Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX.

Three other packages received honorable mention: NPARC Alliance Flowfield Simulation System from Glenn Research Center; ASPEN: Automated Scheduling and Planning Environment from JPL; and Ring Buffered Network Bus Data Management System from Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA.

The NASA award is the largest award of its kind in the United States. The winners were selected from a field of 50 entries representing more than 150 corporations, universities and government laboratories.

Last year, NASA awarded more than $350,000 in cash prizes to the winners. The event is cosponsored by the NASA Inventions and Contributions Board and the NASA Chief Information Officer. NASA officials will officially present the awards at special ceremonies later this year. Information about the winning team and other finalists is available from:

Broadcasters may record satellite feeds related to the computer awards on August 5 from NASA Television. The NASA Video File airs at noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight Eastern Time. NASA Television is available on GE-2, transponder 9C at 85 degrees West longitude, with vertical polarization. Frequency is on 3880.0 megahertz, with audio on 6.8 megahertz.



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