During a spacewalk in 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano found himself in grave danger — water was leaking into his helmet.
The water quickly migrated in zero-G to his eyes, ears and nose. Quickly, Luca was struggling to hear and see and he began having trouble breathing. Fortunately, his partner for the spacewalk, Chris Cassidy, was nearby and guided Luca into the airlock and safety.
Space is hard enough to survive in without water-filled helmets, so NASA halted all non-emergency spacewalks and launched an investigation to figure out exactly what happened. Contaminants introduced into the system had caused the water separator to malfunction and water backed up into the helmet just 30 minutes into what was supposed to be a 6.5-hour spacewalk.
The data on the spacesuit specs, maintenance schedules and previous excursions was spread out across too many different locations. When NASA went to collect all possible data on the situation as part of the investigation, it turned out to be a task of astronomical proportions.
Collin Estes is the Director of Software Engineering and Chief Architect at Mathematical Research Institute Technologies (MRI Technologies), who partners with United Technologies Corporation Aerospace Systems, the company that creates and maintains the spacesuits for extra vehicular activity (EVA) missions at NASA. Once the scope of the data problem was revealed, he and his team took on the challenge of creating an end-to-end system for data on the full lifecycle of spacesuits. But this is government work, remember, so it had to be done well, fast and as inexpensively as possible.
He chose Node.js to make it work.
If you are curious to know more about how NASA is using Node.js for data accessibility and beyond, read this case study.