NASA supercomputer goes live

NASA officials formally unveiled one of the fastest computers in the world today.

Although the 4-month-old supercomputer known as Columbia is in place, it uses only about 80 percent of its system, NASA officials said.

"The system is now completely installed on the floor," said Walter Brooks, chief of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at the Ames Research Center. "It is useful working project."

Despite using only 80 percent of its capacity, officials said, the new 10,240-processor Silicon Graphics Inc. Altix supercomputer achieved sustained performance of 42.7 teraflops. That's the second best processing mark ever recorded. An NEC Computers Inc. computer recently set a new record of 65 teraflops.

Columbia already has been used for each of NASA's four missions: earth science, space operations, space exploration and aeronautics. The supercomputer is performing ocean and atmospheric modeling at the highest resolutions to date, forecasting hurricanes, simulating supernovas and replicating shuttle re-entry and debris scenarios.

To do ocean modeling that analyzes flows from 1992 to 2002, Columbia is processing a year's worth of work in a couple of days. Future exploration work will include nanotechnology and digital astronauts.

"We use the analogy [that] it's almost like shooting a movie," Brooks said. "Overnight, we're doing videos of the solutions, and they're right back in the computer the next day. What you do is see the discovery process."

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