Redmond, Wash., April 7, 1999 — In September 1998, the 75-foot Starship research vessel left Seattle’s Bell Harbor for a landmark 1,000-day voyage. By the time it arrives in Hamburg, Germany in May 2001, the ship will have circled the globe, documenting wildlife populations and calling attention to global environmental problems. Its rotating crew of scientists, marine experts, journalists and photographers will have gathered a wealth of data from remote -often inhospitable – locations. And by sharing their journals, photographs, sound and video via email and the Web, the Starship will have brought the world along for the ride.
Microsoft technology is helping make this remarkable journey happen. Microsoft volunteers used the Company’s standard, shipping operating systems, applications and networking technology to equip the ship to capture audio, video and still images; twice a day, the on-board server exchanges e-mail and updates the ship’s Web site over an Inmarsat B satellite connection. Even the ship’s on-board sonar and radar systems can provide real-time data to the Web.
So far, the Microsoft technology on board has done its job well. “Surprisingly, we have had very few problems with our PCs,” said Starship captain Michael Poliza. “Altogether, there are 12 workstations that run Windows 98 and two running Windows NT 4.0, plus our server. Although we’ve had our fair share of mechanical problems [with the ship], the computers have performed exceptionally well!”
“Given the rough environment of the ship, with permanent motion and banging, salt water humidity, heat and cramped space, the PCs and server are still running without many problems,” said Microsoft program manager Christian Stark, who recently visited the ship. “My biggest worry was the rough environment, and that turned out not to be a factor.”
This good performance is a relief to Microsoft program manager Bill Koszewski, who helped outfit the ship. “We set out to design a reliable, low-maintenance system,” he said. “The technology on board isn’t necessarily the focus of the trip, it’s an enabler for the broader missions of exploration, documentation and communication. We didn’t want to have a system that required continuous “futzing” to be useful, and so far it’s met that expectation.”
“What impresses me most about the Starship project is how it demonstrates the potential of Microsoft products. Everything running on that ship can be bought off the shelf in your local computer store. It’s just our ordinary stuff.”
In addition to providing Web users with an entertaining and informative journey around the world, the Starship’s technology has also come in handy for the scientists on board. Dr. John McCosker, an ichthyologist with the California Academy of Sciences, was able to gather important data about the Cocos island batfish (Ogcocephalus porrectus) using the ship’s digital cameras. The batfish is among several rare species in the Cocos, whose isolation has produced spectacular evolutionary anomalies; much can be learned about evolutionary processes by gathering data on these unique species. Normally, specimens must be preserved in formaldehyde and taken to a laboratory for study, but valuable color information can be lost. Using the ship’s digital cameras, McCosker was able to take vivid color photographs of the fish and share them with colleagues the next day.
Having Microsoft software on board has also helped in more practical ways: “It’s boating courtesy to display the flag of the country you are visiting on your mast. The Starship has about 75 different flags on board, but sometimes the one you need isn’t there,” said Poliza. “Twice, in Panama and Turks & Caicos, we solved that problem by going into Encarta ’99, copying the country’s flag, enlarging and printing it. Then we laminated the flag, pierced two holes in it, and the flag was flying. Nobody even noticed!”