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Standards Rule OK

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I first appreciated the importance of computer standards when I worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in the early 1990s. My field, x-ray astronomy, was just three decades old at the time. The first pioneering missions could detect only a handful of bright objects. But their successors-among them the European Space Agency's European X-ray Observatory Satellite and NASA's Einstein Observatory -observed thousands of x-ray emitting stars, galaxies, and other cosmic objects. Then came Germany's Rδntgen Satellite and Japan's Ginga which added to that swelling collection. My former colleagues at GSFC duly picked such a format: flexible image transport system (FITS). Originally developed for optical and radio data, FITS makes exten sive use of headers and keywords. Like XML, FITS is ex tensible. Whenever a new detector technology comes online, new keywords and data structures are defined within the FITS framework. Granted, someone has to write an instrument-specific program that translates telemetry into FITS, but no one has to take on the more onerous job of rewriting data analysis software.

Published in:

Computing in Science & Engineering  (Volume:13 ,  Issue: 5 )