Why won't NASA show any computer screens?

This question was inspired by yesterday's NASA video stream of Perseverance landing on Mars (congratulations).

I like watching rocket launches, they are really awe-inspiring, even if it's just a SN9 test hop; but landing streams are a bit meh, in my opinion. While it has some objective reasons and the goal and suspension was thrilling, in the end the stream consisted almost exclusively from either "talking heads" or overhead control center shots.

I wonder why NASA does not show any actual computer screens with telemetry? Sure, they might not be understandable, but at least it would be a way for the enthusiasts and public to experience the landing more. The outreach is the goal of these streams, after all. Is it for (national) security reasons? "Trade" secrets?

• I think you answered your own question. My displays in the MCC were covered in numbers shown in a small font and would have been interesting to only a tiny subset of the audience. Feb 19 '21 at 13:59
• they stopped after I found a mistake (humor!) related: What does a NASA employee see on their monitor when a robot lands on Mars? see also boring screens in the background
– uhoh
Feb 19 '21 at 14:51
• Good question. I was frustrated by the Perseverance video coverage that kept cutting away from the awesome screen with all the information, to the face of a person trying her best to read the rapidly changing information. Feb 19 '21 at 17:37
• @OrganicMarble as a counterargument, I would say that people watching a NASA stream for several hours are exactly the kind of people who would like to see some actual telemetry screens, even if they would be mostly a gibberish for them. Feb 19 '21 at 18:12
• One of the JPL video streams had almost no explanatory commentary, and would cut occasionally to an animation driven by realtime telemetry showing all manner of techie numbers and progress through landing stages, rendered similarly to the graphical overlays on broadcasts of rocket launches. Feb 19 '21 at 21:20

A long, long time ago, I managed to arrange to get two passes to see the first light from one of the Voyager flybys of Jupiter. I collected on lots of debts and pulled lots of strings to get those passes.

I brought a date. She. Was. Bored. (Needless to say, that was the end of that relationship.)

And that was the first light from a vehicle that whose sole mission to take pictures. Perseverance's main goal is not to take pictures. Perseverance's main goal is to collect data that is boring, at least to non-scientists.

The real-time data transmitted by interplanetary vehicles are not the high resolution 4G graphics you are accustomed to seeing on the internet. They can't be.

• He is rather asking why they won't disclose more mission data like telemetry etc. They could provide an API for that. If they wanted. Feb 19 '21 at 16:57
• +1 for the great date story. I hope she's also still talking about that date. Because she found it so remarkable boring whereas we find it so remarkable exciting. Feb 19 '21 at 17:10
• The point of my story is that it takes a lot of knowledge and training to understand the data transmitted by space vehicles. It took people like @OrganicMarble years of training before they were allowed to be in the front room of a control center, and that was after having attained a relevant college education. Feb 19 '21 at 17:32
• While what you say is true, I think that it's not that simple. NASA was able to show live footage of the Moon landings 50 years ago, so you would think that they should have been able to get something together half a century later. And, more importanly, part of NASA's mission is to convince people that the government should keep forking boatloads of money to fund the space program; a highly unappealing broadcast such as yesterday's does not contribute to the cause. Feb 20 '21 at 10:58
• I feel like both this response and the comment from Martin just above mine are overlooking what the question says -- It will not be understandable to us, but some of us want to see it to feel more involved. It's a thing that a subset of the fans would love, and there's a bit of feeling (to me) of "Isn't that my data, too?" I'd love a (secondary, optional) technical feed of formatted but not explained technical data. Maybe borrow from what they deem worthy of going up on the big video walls. Feb 20 '21 at 16:53

In trying to explain my feelings on this question in comments on the other answer, I came around to a possible explanation -- There could be a real PR cost to publishing raw data streams in real time.

There's certainly a vocal subset of space geeks who want to see this. It would inevitably spawn hours of commentary in forums and on YouTube, folks with a wide range of experience all trying to interpret the data and explain what they believe is happening.

This could be seen by a government PR department as a bad thing to do, as it would make their jobs harder and do the opposite of the "make us look good" goal of PR.

So even as a fan of this concept - I can see why NASA would opt out.

• NASA did provide "live" coverage. (I wrote "live" in quotes because of the eleven minute time delay.) If the rover had failed to land, that failure would have been exposed to all, with an eleven minute time delay. So NASA did not opt out. Feb 20 '21 at 20:47
• +1 This occurred to me as well. Watching the volume of internet studies and speculations based on SpaceX's youtube broadcasts with live speed and altitudes, the difference is that SpaceX simply doesn't care as much; for those that understand it's limitations it's candy and may spark interest in future job applicants, and it certainly doesn't slow down the private paying customers. But NASA is a publicly funded entity an needs to pay much more attention to its public-facing side, so must better curate its live data and interpretation.
– uhoh
Feb 21 '21 at 0:59
• ...and to that end Dr. Swati Mohan did an excellent job of calling out and explaining the data live. (see also)
– uhoh
Feb 21 '21 at 1:01
• I've worked in a science project with high public visibility and I would confirm that this is a likely consideration: The team wants to make sure that their data is interpreted correctly and be in control of the story that is presented to the public. A premature report of failure or success could paint an undesired picture, as would a badly communicated early release of science results. It's very easy to misinterpret raw data for people from outside a project, even actual experts with no ill intend.
– Emil
Feb 21 '21 at 17:20
• @DavidHammen The question was not "Why doesn't NASA provide live coverage?" but "Why doesn't NASA provide live views of telemetry data?" Feb 23 '21 at 21:06

I recall hearing that as the reason for no images of the screens in the SpaceX spacecraft. The controls and data on the screen was considered a trade secret and so was not to be shown to the public as that might give data helpful to SpaceX competitors. I expect that there is plenty of data on the screens at a mission control center with this same kind of data on the screens, and applies to trade secrets to any spacecraft made by anyone.

What we get from the broadcast of these missions will be things that they cannot hide from the public. A rocket launch will make a lot of noise, put a very bright object into the air, and therefore can be tracked with great precision by anyone that wants to bother doing so. Spacecraft manufacturers might prefer people not know how fast and how high their rockets can go but there's no hiding that.

On some of those screens will be the telemetry from health and safety sensors on the crew, that's medical data that might be protected under law.

Something that lands on Mars will likely be tracked by foreign nations as there's a number of nations with their own satellites orbiting the planet and making observations. There's not going to be any trade secret or national security implications on giving away where something lands on Mars.

NASA is a federal government agency and will use resources from other space capable federal agencies in tracking anything launched into space. Space Force assets could be in use and giving away names and places on a screen might have national security implications and therefore will not be shared with the public.

Because it will be difficult to separate what can and can not be shared in real time it's simply going to be easier to not allow any screens to be shown. NASA will control this flow of information and mundane details they are willing to share will be put on large screens for people on site and streamed over the internet.

Trade secrets does appear to be the biggest reason to not allow people to see the computer screens at NASA.

• This is very interesting speculation but should be backed up with done sources. Feb 21 '21 at 13:47