Advanced Automation for Space Missions/Glossary

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Glossary: For machine intelligence and automation in space[edit]

Algorithm - A procedure for accomplishing a given result by proceeding on a logical step-by-step basis. Computer programs and N/C routines for machine tools are developed this way.

Analog - Computers of this type are designed to respond and control continuous process operations such as flows, temperatures, or other infinitely variable-type operations. Digital computers process only discrete digital data.

Automatic - Functioning in a predefined manner with a minimum of reprogrammability; possesses only limited process information closure.

Autonomous - Functioning independently of other components or systems; self-governing or self-controlling; possessing virtually complete closure in normal operation.

Axis - A general direction of relative motion between N/C machine cutting tool and the workpiece.

Bit - A binary digit of 0 or 1; the smallest unit of information.

Bootstrap - A technique for loading the first few instructions of a computer program into active memory and then using them to bring in the rest of the program.

Buffer Storage - A place for storing information in either a computer or control unit so that it is immediately available for action once the previous instructions have been completed. Buffers eliminate the need to wait for information to be transferred from a slower bulk storage medium into active memory.

Byte - A series of binary digits organized to represent an alphanumeric symbol; sometimes called a "word" of memory; 4-, 8-, and 16-bit bytes are common in computing.

CAD - Computer-aided design; the use of computers to aid in product design and development.

CAM - Computer-aided manufacturing; the use of computers to assist in any or all phases of manufacturing. N/C is one form of CAM.

Cartesian Coordinates - A system of two or three mutually perpendicular axes along which any point may be located in terms of distance and direction from any other point.

CAT - Computer-aided testing; the use of computers to aid in the testing of manufactured output.

Chip - Small piece of semiconductor material upon which electronic components and subassemblies are formed. Integrated circuits, LSI and VLSI are made on chips.

Closed-Loop System - A system whereby signals from a control unit are acted upon by the machine effector or teleoperator, and a monitoring unit then returns the acted upon signals for comparison; operates using feedback from errors, thus achieving some level of self-correction; opposite of open loop.

Closure - Exists when system function or output exceeds system structure and input requirements. Closure may involve quality, quantity, or throughput rate, and may apply to mass (parts, materials), energy (power, collectors), or information (assembly operations, repairs).

Cognition - Programmed models which approximate the behavior of natural cognition, in the context of robotic and artificial intelligence systems.

Compatibility - The degree to which tapes, languages, and programming can be interchanged among various computer-controlled systems.

CPU - Central processing unit; the basic memory or logic center of a computer that includes the circuits controlling the processing and execution of instructions.

CRT - Cathode ray tube; an electronic vacuum tube containing a screen on which graphic or alphanumeric information may be displayed.

CS&T - Computer Science and Technology.

Dedicated Computer - A computer devoted exclusively to a single application.

Degrees of Freedom - The state of a mechanism can be described by specifying the current value of each variable parameter, particularly rotating or sliding elements, of robot systems.

Digital - Information and values are expressed in discrete terms. In a digital computer such terms are generated by a combination of binary on/off or positive/negative signals, the opposite of analog wherein a fluctuating signal strength determines the fluctuations of values.

Digitize - The process of converting a scaled, but not nonmathematical, image into digital data.

Disc - A random-access storage component of a computer system.

DOD - Department of Defense.

DOC - Department of Commerce.

Dump - The removal of all or part of the contents of a computer storage medium such as memory or disc and its reproduction in some other medium such as hard copy printout, tapes, or cards.

Feedback - Information returned from the output of a machine or process intended for use as output in subsequent operations or for purposes of automatic control.

GEO - Geosynchronous Earth Orbit; also Geostationary Earth Orbit.

Hardwired - Computer or computer controlled system which functions by means of fixed or committed circuitry; reprogramming is possible only by altering the nature of or interconnections among physical components.

Heuristic - A heuristic computer program is one which begins with only an approximate method of solving a problem within the context of some goal, and then uses feedback from the effects of the solution to improve its own performance.

ICAM - Integrated computer-aided manufacturing.

IESIS - Intelligent Earth-Sensing Information System.

Integrated Circuits (ICs) - a very small single structure assembly of electronic components containing many circuits and functions on a chip.

Interface - The medium by which two separate elements of a computer system are joined to permit mutual interaction.

I/O Device - Input or output equipment or programming, used to communicate with a computer or control system.

LBM - Laser beam machining.

LEO - Low-Earth Orbit.

LSI - Large-scale integration; the organization of many integrated circuits on a single, very small substrate; the basis of microcomputers and minicomputer logic systems.

Manipulator Systems - A generic term for any mechanical device which a robot uses to directly manipulate its environment.

Motive Systems - A generic term for the mechanisms used to convey a robot around its environment.

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

N/C Machine Tool - Numerical controlled machine tool; a mill, lathe, or other production machine driven by computer-generated instructions for manufacturing that are read from a tape or other input medium, which the machine follows to complete a given task.

NEEDS - NASA End-to-End Data System.

NSF - National Science Foundation.

NTM - Nonterrestrial manufacturing.

Offline Operation - Peripheral equipment operating independently of a central computer, to conserve expensive online central computer time.

Open-Loop System - A system which generates output signals but which depends on the integrity of the system to execute them, without feedback for monitoring or comparison purposes. Open-loop systems ignore error signals and operate on the assumption that no errors occur.

OTV - Orbital Transfer Vehicle.

PROM - Programmable read-only memory; can be programmed only by special routines. One programmed with permanent data, it becomes a ROM or read-only memory.

RAM - Random access memory; access time is effectively independant of the data location.

R&D - Research and development.

Real Time - The ability of a computer to function and control processes as they actually occur.

ROM - Read only memory; see PROM.

SETI - Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

SMF - Space manufacturing facility.

SRS - Self-replicating system(s).

STS - Space transportation system; the Space Shuttle.

Teleoperator - A mechanical device for following displaying, or amplifying the motions of the human body (hands, legs, head) to perform some useful task.

Turkey Ratio - In a nonterrestrial manufacturing facility, a measure of closure defined as the fraction of all terrestrial materials supplied per unit mass of output product.

World Model - An information structure built up in the memory of a computer or robot, based on both initialization and heuristic interaction with the environment.


The participants would like to thank all the visitors from NASA Headquarters, who gave tirelessly of their time and assistance in these endeavors, the Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology and other NASA offices for their support, and especially the NASA Administrator, Dr. Robert A. Frosch, for his personal attendance on two separate occasions at our deliberations. We would also like to thank various NASA Centers, SRI International, Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, Martin-Marietta Corporation, Battelle Memorial Institute, Science Applications, Inc., and a number of visitors from NASA/JPL for the many invaluable seminars, personal contacts, demonstrations, and facilities graciously and effectively provided during the course of the Summer Study. We also thank our hosts, University of Santa Clara for its lovely physical facilities and Ames Research Center for providing the administrative support. Special thanks goes to the Technical Information Division at Ames for continuing graphics assistance and particularly to Susie Rydquist for the final editing and preparation of this report.