[Originally published on Perforce.com]
“I was at the STS 130 launch, standing there at 4 AM in Florida in the cold. The thing launches, and you go from darkest night to daylight. No camera can iris down fast enough to capture how it splits the sky,” recalls Zig Zichterman, a lifelong space buff and a Perforce software engineer. “It’s a spectacular sight. That’s why I’m drawn to Spacevidcast: the enthusiasm, the dynamic and the visual content. I can get the rich data elsewhere, but that’s not the same.”
The search for high-definition NASA video feeds led Zichterman to Spacevidcast, a three-year-old website founded by Benjamin Higginbotham to “make space commonplace.” Spacevidcast boasts daily on-demand episodes, weekly shows and live HD coverage of major space events, be they launches or lunar eclipses. The show streams not only to mobile devices but to HDTV via the Roku set top box and its own Roku channel. Since Spacevidcast’s inception, viewers have queried astronauts and other guests on-air; in 2011, the site will use Vokle for video call-in questions.
Spacevidcast’s trademark streaming HD required horsepower the nascent site lacked until Perforce came on as a sponsor. Zichterman learned about the limitations of Higginbotham’s existing system and quickly took up the cause. “I’m one of those shy engineers, but it wasn’t a hard sell [to Perforce executives]. It was an opportunity to sponsor something off-the-wall that had a high intersection with programmers. It was 10 minutes to ‘Yes, let’s pursue it,'” recalls Zichterman. Perforce provided a $10,000, 12-core MacPro with “insane” graphics and capture cards.
Perforce’s sponsorship means that the show will be ready for the next Space Shuttle launch attempt, currently scheduled for February 24. But there’s plenty more to watch in space. With NASA’s blessing, private enterprise is angling to provide alternatives to Russian Soyuz rockets for transport to the International Space. Covering what Higginbotham predicts will be an “active, awesome year” in HD both fills a void in popular journalism and comes just as web video is achieving escape velocity.
“Space coverage on CNN just makes you cry for humanity,” says Zichterman. In the case of the scrubbed November 2010 Space Shuttle launch, the umbilical connector leak was a mystery to many viewers, but on Spacevidcast “people in the chat room know what’s going on and can explain it. Contrast that to CNN, where someone with a really nice haircut and a great suit is talking and the scroll on the bottom is dragging up Challenger or NASA funding cuts.”
Sponsorship from Perforce is a milestone for Spacevidcast, says its founder: “Very few companies understand this stuff. Perforce was the first one who had the vision to say there is something there, the vision to say the whole tech media industry is changing. Not a lot of large companies do that.”
Sidebar: SCM and the Shuttle Software
The Space Shuttle’s onboard software is the gold standard for error-free source code. As documented in the widely read 1996 article in Fast Company, “They Write the Right Stuff,” the real-time software is notoriously complex—and as fault-tolerant as is humanly possible, with fewer than 10 errors out of millions of lines of code over the last 30 years.
A cornerstone of this nearly error-free software is configuration management, which is “exercised at an amazing level of detail. Each individual line of code has a pedigree, a complete history of what changes were made over its lifetime,” writes Paul Ehrler in the Winter 1997 issue of Software Quality Matters. No surprise, then, that Perforce counts NASA, Lockheed Martin and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory among its customers.
2015 UPDATE: Spacevidcast is now called TMRO, funded on Patreon
TMRO (pronounced Tomorrow) is a live webcast every Saturday at 21:00 UTC “all about human settlement of the cosmos.” TMRO is a crowd-funded show. Head over to http://www.patreon.com/tmro for information, goals and reward levels.