Key space station tech still weak
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Aug 21, 2000
"Assessment of the Portable Computer System and the Data Display Process,G-99-010A"
Problems still exist in the development of displays for the International
Space Station's primary command and control computers, NASA's Inspector
General reported this month.
In an Aug. 11 report on the Portable Computer System and Data Display Process
for the space station, NASA's IG said display development still has significant
weaknesses that impact usability and reliability of the PCS. The problems
exist despite efforts that have been made since the mid-1990s to improve
problems with the software and display development.
The on-board PCS is a commercial laptop computer modified for flight use
and loaded with commercial and custom software, according to the IG memo
to NASA officials. It is the crew's primary interface for command and control
of the space station and provides the crew with caution and warning information
for the station. The PCS displays consist of graphical and nongraphical,
or tabular, formats.
Problems identified by the IG included the inability of the crew to know
about erroneous data. In addition, users have difficulty navigating windows
and screens to perform a task based on the display design. The IG recommended
constant crew involvement in the development of the displays to guarantee
the best, most efficient human/computer interface.
"The ISS program does not have a coordinated, well-defined process for software
engineering and software management," the report said. "The lack of such
a process results in numerous problems with requirements control, configuration
management, cost and schedule estimates and defect prevention."
The report included 11 recommendations to improve the management, tools
and software development process for the displays, but the IG did not think
NASA management's reply was responsive.
Joseph Rothenberg, NASA associate administrator for Space Flight, replied
in writing that many of the recommendations reflect activities that are
already under way. He suggested the IG reconsider the recommendations.
NASA is developing tools to improve its processes and shorten its display
development time, Rothenberg said in his letter. He also said a software
management plan has been in negotiations for the several months and is in
the final stages of approval.