For Immediate Release
Moving Vans for the International Space Station Get Packed Using Lisp Technology
Berkeley, CA ֠September 5, 2001: Packing up for a cross-town move has never been easy, so it isnҴ difficult to imagine the headaches involved if the destination happens to be hundreds of miles above the Earth, in orbit. Johnson Engineering, a NASA contractor, owns this challenge in the packing of the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules, three Space Shuttle components used to transport cargo to the International Space Station. To help tackle the problem of packing thousands of pounds of electronic equipment, scientific experiments and supplies into these space-age "moving vans, " Johnson Engineering uses a software application developed with the Lisp-based Allegro CLÒ product of Franz Inc.
Holding up to 10 tons of cargo each, the self-contained Logistics Modules are designed to fit inside a Shuttle cargo bay. The complex task of Configuring and packing the Logistics Modules prior to launch requires that careful attention be paid to many factors, such as optimal fit, accounting for and evenly distributing the cargo weight, and minimizing the possibility of breakage during transit. To automate the packing process, Johnson Engineering relies on a revolutionary Lisp-based computer program called the Cargo Planning, Analysis and Configuration System (CPACs). With the CPACs application, the process of planning and laying out an initial cargo configuration, which used to take four technicians up to two weeks to accomplish, can now be completed by one person in about six hours.
Originally developed by the Boeing Company for NASA, CPACs was recently updated by software engineer Jason Kantz of Johnson Engineering to support current cargo standards and specifications. In benefiting from Lisp's inherent capabilities such as automatic memory management, manifest typing, first class functions, and closures, Kantz believes that it was significantly easier to bring the CPACs application up to date than if he had used a different programming language.
Although Kantz had developed in similar languages before, he had never used Lisp prior to the CPACs project. Further, Kantz wanted to integrate additional functionality and make the CPACs application easier to debug. From his experience with Allegro CL, Kantz now prefers Lisp over any other programming language, and he believes that using Lisp makes applications much more flexible and easy to design, especially for someone getting up to speed in a new language.
Said Kantz, "Lisp's code-compile-debug cycle means that when I re-write a function, I can instantly see how it effects the application."
Kantz continues to update the CPACs application, which will be used for all future International Space Station re-supply missions. He's currently rewriting the application to remove many of the pre-specified size and layout constraints. Lisp and Allegro CL are well suited for this approach, because Lispҳ modular structure has enabled Kantz to design a more generic loading model.
For more information on the CPACs application, visit http://kantz.com/jason/cpacs.html
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