June 24, 2022

Spacecraft Orbiting Mars Still Running Windows 98

A software update 20 years in the making.

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Talk about a blast from the past! Turns out the spacecraft that helped discover water on Mars has been running on Windows 98 this whole time.

The European Space Agency published a press release Tuesday that said the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), which is an instrument on board the Mars Express orbiter, is finally getting a software upgrade. The MARSIS was part of the ESA’s fist mission to Mars, launching 19 years ago in June of 2003.

Andrea Cicchetti, who led the upgrade’s development, says that after two decades of service, the team wants to see push MARSIS farther and help it become even more useful.

Carlo Nenna, the on-board software engineer who is implementing the upgrade, added there were definitely obstacles to overcome.

“We faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” Nenna said in the statement. “Not least because the MARSIS software was originally designed over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!”

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The new upgrade should help MARSIS pack a bigger punch, like being able to stay on five times longer and peer down at larger areas on the Martian planet’s red surface. The ESA says evidence indicates water under the planet’s south pole, and the new software should help them confirm whether that’s true.

“It really is like having a brand new instrument on board Mars Express almost 20 years after launch,” ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson said in the statement.

We just hope the new software has as good of a startup sound as the classic, breezy synth that Windows 98 boasted back in the day.

More on Mars: Physicist Says There’s a Small Chance You’ll Wake Up on Mars Tomorrow Due to Quantum Physics 

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