What do you think a computer scientist can do in NASA? Aritificial Intelligence and robot navigation? Jeff Norris told us It was an old view about NASA!
In addition to AI planners for Mars exploration, they also need lots of HCI work too, to support their scientists and operations engineers authoring plans for the robots and viewing and analyzing lots of data and pictures. In project Maestro, a team in JPL uses an open source tool, Eclipse, as their platform to build the whole system. They created a visualization tool to see the pictures on Mars. It looks just like Google Earth, but for Mars.
Moreover, the operation engineers in JPL need to evolve lots of custom tools to automate operation processes. Definitely, they have strict processes of designing, implementing, and testing for very high quality software engineering. However, It’s very surprising that they use Perl and Python scripts to do a billion-dollar critical mission, which subverts the general thought that scripting languages are only used for sloppy work.