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If you can program in Fortran and Assembler, NASA has a job for you

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November 2, 2015

With its last generation of space engineers hanging up their hats for retirement, NASA is desperately looking for programmers that are fluent in Fortran and Assembly languages.

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, the manager of NASA's Voyager program Suzanne Dodd said the retirement of the last original crew member has left the space agency with a big shortage of programmers capable of communicating with its aging Voyager spacecraft.

Launched more than 38 years ago, the two Voyager relies on mid-70s hardware controlled by purpose-built General Electric interrupt-driven processors.

Since 1977, the two probes are currently on the outer fringes of the Sun's influence, heading into a totally new galaxy.

Though most of the instruments onboard the two probes have been deactivated, both are still able to maintain contact with Earth and will continue to do so well into the 2020's NASA estimates, until their onboard radioisotope thermoelectric generators die out.

In the meantime, NASA needs smart engineers capable of interacting with the 1970s-era technology, a skillset that includes knowledge of both Fortran and Assembly code as well as the ability to command a machine with just 64 Kb of RAM memory.

"Although some people can program in an assembly language and understand the intricacies of the spacecraft, most younger people can't or really don't want to," Dodd was quoted as saying.

With higher-level languages now the standard for today's developers, knowing how to fluently code in Assembly has become a very specialized skill in deed.

While still obscure, the skillset is potentially lucrative. Along with NASA's aging fleet of spacecraft, many businesses still rely on ancient languages such as Fortran or COBOL for specialized tasks and critical infrastructure.

Source: NASA.

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