File Management At 140 Million Miles

Photo of Alexandra Holloway
Speaker Name: 
Alexandra Holloway
Speaker Title: 
Ethnographic Software Engineer
Speaker Organization: 
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Start Time: 
Friday, February 3, 2017 - 1:00pm
End Time: 
Friday, February 3, 2017 - 2:00pm
UCSC - Engineering 2, Room 180 (Simularium)
Center for Research in Storage Systems (CRSS)


How do you get a peek into a file system that’s on another planet? Managing files onboard Mars Science Laboratory is a job for the Data Management chair, representing one of the subsystems of Engineering Operations for the spacecraft.  Data Management assesses the health and safety of the rover, and also radiates commands to the rover for file system housekeeping: retransmitting, deleting, and reprioritizing files for downlink to Earth. It’s not easy when you’ve only got 2000MB free in a custom flash file system and you’re 140 million miles from home.  In this entry-level talk, you will learn how files are created and stored onboard the rover, how they get to Earth, and how they eventually get removed to make space for new science.


Alexandra Holloway, Ph. D. designs software for space missions in the Human Interfaces Group, specializing in ethnographic design research into operability. As a member of the Data Management team on Mars Science Laboratory, Alexandra authors instructions called sequences to keep the rover’s hard drives empty enough to do more science. Alexandra's work with operators of the Deep Space Network led to the design of micro-displays as data-driven mental model realignment tools.  Previously to being a designer at JPL, Alexandra taught human-computer interaction at Mills College and computer organization (architecture) at University of California, Santa Cruz.

For examples of images taken from the Mars rover, click here:

Mastcam at Point Lake taken on sol 106 (November 22, 2012)

Mastcam: Left (MAST_LEFT) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 1399 (2016-07-13 12:58:01 UTC).