Reminding us of the deep and enabling connection between HPC and modern science is an important part of the SC Conference mission. And yes, HPC is a science itself. At SC19, Steve Squyres’ opening keynote recounting the trials and triumphs of the Mars Exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, was just such a reminder.
Leaving aside for a moment the mammoth effort required to get the twin rovers safely to Mars (~225 million km away), the formal mission was to spend 90 days operating in the harsh Martian environment – peering, digging, grinding, analyzing, (surviving) – and send back data from which scientists could better understand all-things-Mars including finding compelling evidence of flowing water on the Earth’s neighbor at some time in the past.
The stakes were high for the Mars Exploration mission (two launches: Spirit (6/10/2003) and Opportunity (7/7/2003) given the embarrassing failure of NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter resulting from English-to-metric conversion (or lack of) snafu in 1999. Squyres, now a professor at Cornell, was the PI for the new mission and led SC attendees on an engaging journey through the rovers’ long journey from development through conclusion which didn’t happen until June of this 2018 when a giant Martian dust blanketed Opportunity and it ceased transmitting.