JavaScript was involved in delivering images from the James Webb Space Telescope

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It turns out that JavaScript, the programming language frustrated by web developers and users alike, was involved in the delivery of stunning images sent to Earth by the James Webb Space Telescope. No, I don’t mean that NASA’s website that hosts them uses (and does) use JavaScript, or any other sneaky way. So the actual telescope is arguably one of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements and is largely controlled by a JavaScript file. Oh, and it’s based on his 2002 software development kit.

According to the JWST Integrated Science Instrument Module (or ISIM) manuscript (PDF), the ISIM software is controlled by a “script processor task (SP)” that executes scripts written in JavaScript when commands are received. The actual code that turns these JavaScripts (a NASA terminology, not mine) into actions can run 10 JavaScripts at once.

It's the script processor that actually performs the tasks, but the JavaScript tells it what to do.

It’s the script processor that actually performs the tasks, but the JavaScript tells it what to do.
Figure: NASA

The manuscript and paper (pdf) “JWST: Maximum Efficiency and Minimizing Ground Systems” written by Ilana Dashevsky and Vicki Balzano at the Space Telescope Science Institute describes this process in great detail, but without further explanation. It’s a little oversimplified to be able to. reading page. JWST has many of these pre-written scripts to perform specific tasks, and a ground scientist can tell JWST to perform those tasks. Their JavaScript is interpreted by a program called a script processor. The script processor accesses other applications and systems as needed based on what the script requests. JWST does not run a web browser with JavaScript directly controlling the mid-infrared instrument. This is similar to when a manager is given a list of tasks (JavaScript in this example) to perform and delegates them to the team.

JavaScript is only part of the puzzle, but it's an important piece.

JavaScript is only part of the puzzle, but it’s an important piece.
Figure: NASA

JavaScript is still very Importantly, though, ISIM is actually a collection of devices that take pictures through a telescope, and a script controls that process. NASA calls it “the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope.”

So it seems a little strange that we are using such old technology. According to Dashevsky and Balzano, the language the script is written in is called Nombas ScriptEase 5.00e. According to Nombas’ (now defunct) website, the latest update to ScriptEase 5.00e was released in January 2003 — yes, almost 20 years ago. There are people who can vote for people who weren’t born when the software that controlled some of JWST’s most important instruments came out.

This knowledge is available on Hacker News and twitter The thread has been around for years, but it surprised quite a few of us here The Barge when you actually click on it. At first glance, it seems strange that such an important (not to mention expensive) scientific instrument would be controlled by a very old version of technology not particularly known for its robustness.

But if you think about it for a moment, the software age makes a little more sense — JWST started in late 2021, but the project has been in the works since 1989. When construction of the telescope began in 2004, ScriptEase 5 was only a little over two years old after launching in 2002, but the spacecraft was powered by proven technology, not the latest and greatest. is actually not particularly old, given that it is often supplied with Projects like JWST (literally) take time to get off the ground, so what needed to be rocked early on can look obsolete by more traditional standards as the launch date approaches.

Like the project itself, these documents describing JWST’s JavaScript system are quite old. According to ResearchGate, the one written by Dashevsky and Balzano is undated but was published in 2006, and the ISIM manuscript is from his 2011. .) It’s always possible NASA could have changed the scripting system since then, but it seems like a pretty big undertaking that should have been mentioned somewhere. Also, NASA did not respond, The Verges When asked for comment, this JWST documentation page published in 2017 mentions “event-driven scientific operations”.

By the way, the knowledge base also contains some details about the telescope’s 68 GB SSD, which it says can hold between 58.8 and 65 GB of real scientific data. wait, did i forget to say that? Yes, this telescope’s solid state drive has about the same capacity as was available in the original 2008 MacBook Air.

either way, I’m not here to talk about JWST storage.Feels like a big problem at this point Why JavascriptGranted, project engineers may be a little more apprehensive about language today than they were when they were choosing technology for their projects, but NASA, with its strict programming guidelines, has made it easier among some programmers.? is famous for Prefer scripting instead of more traditional code?

According to NASA documents, this method “provides operators with greater visibility, control, and flexibility in operating the telescope,” allowing scripting “as they learn the implications and subtleties of operating the instrument.” it will be easy to change. Essentially, NASA works with a set of files written in a human-readable format. If you need to make changes, open a text editor and type bundle Submit the updated file to JWST after you finish testing on the ground. It’s certainly easier (and therefore less error-prone) than if all your programs were written in arcane code that you had to recompile if you wanted to change them.


A “simplified” diagram of the architecture from the Maximizing Efficiency paper.
Image: Space Telescope Science Institute

If you’re still worried, note that the Space Telescope Science Institute documentation states that the script processor itself is written in C++. teeth It’s known for being…well, the type of language you’d want to use if you were programming a spaceship. And it’s clearly working, right? Regardless of what code was run to generate the photos, the photos are incredible. However, this is a fun trivia. Second, when you’re swearing that the modern web is too slow and wish someone could fly JavaScript into space, you can remember that NASA actually did it.


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