An un-edited view of Saturn

Something that is kind of annoying about NASA photos is that they end up so touched up, and so many liberties taken with them that they become creatures of their own.

Enter these old CD-ROMs

So I was happy to find this CD-ROM, NASA: Voyagers to the Outer Planets Volume 4: Saturn. It’s great that these are on, but like all old CD-ROM’s they are not quite ‘ISO CD9660’ enough so they don’t mount on Windows 10, or OS X. So once more again I used Qemu & a raw disk image, xcopying the CD to the disk and using 7zip to extract the disk onto the native filesystem.

Seeing that Voyager 2 was launched in 1977, and didn’t rendezvous with Saturn until 1981, it’s safe to say that the images are not in TIFF, GIF, or anything that modern machines will read. Instead they are compressed with Kris Becker’s implementation of Huffman encoding. Thankfully the source to the compression, and various manipulation tools are included in both C & Fortran. It was not to much work to get the C version to build, and have it detecting a 32bit LittleEndian machine. The program was meant to be run interactively however, so a few small changes had it running command line to let me script decompress the entire image set.

The image formats that it can output to are:

  • SFDU/PDS format.
  • FITS format.
  • VICAR format.
  • Unlabelled binary array.

Which make it sound even less than useful. However ImageMagick does understand the FITS format, so running this at home on a 3Ghz 2006 MacPro took about 10 minutes to decompress and re-encode the images from the CD. Obviously doing this at work on 32cores will be much more faster than 8 cores, although I guess back in ’88 using a VAX-11/780 felt pretty awesome still.

As for the images, they are at surprisingly high resolution 800×800. What struck me about many of the images, is how they show a greater detail in things like the shadows of the rings on Saturn, or even an almost TV like quality to various moon flybys.

And the unexpected over exposures and flares.

But I thought it was an interesting glimpse into these images.

Also these CD-ROMs comprise a highlight selection. Which means for someone more intrepiding than me, there is far more of these raw vintage images out there.

Ssystem 1.6

ssystem logo

With all the talk of a possible ‘rocky’ earth like planet making the news, I thought it would be fun to seek out a really ancient (ha!) OpenGL program that did a basic simulation of our solar system.  I am of course talking about ssytem.

Back in the late 90’s I have to admit that this was pretty incredible to look at!  Although it was using OpenGL in software only, and to be honest the best and more stable way to use ssystem was on Windows of all things.

Microsoft had a deal with SGI around the 1993 timeline, and after the release of Windows NT 3.1 they were able to work out a deal to bring Windows NT to the SGI MIPS computers platform in exchange from OpenGL being made available on Windows NT.  SGI couldn’t see a way to monetize NT on their hardware and the port never actually shipped, evidence of it however is present in the leaked Windows NT 4.0 source code.  However OpenGL would prove very import for Microsoft as workstation style graphics could now run on ‘prosumer’ grade OS Windows NT 3.5, and eventually there was even a runtime for Windows 95!

All the old websites, and archives of ssystem have been wiped out, however I did find a copy of the source code for version 1.6 on a HPUX site of all places.


With a filename tracked down, I was able to locate in a partial backup of the main site here:

So I thought I could start there.  Ssystem needs the GLUT toolkit and I found a ‘pre-configured’ version 3.7 that Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0 can build on the command line here. Naturally with all the textures, it does rely on the IJG JPEG library (libjpeg) and I used version 6b as ssystem itself dates from 1999.

There was a bit of work to be done with the source code, as I had to massage it to compile with Visual C++, lots of missing headers, and there were some collisions in the lex for parsing the config file, but they were trivial to clean up.  After a bit of going back and forth with a seemingly defective pre-built version of GLUT, re-building it myself got it to link a working executable:

ssystem in orbit around Europa.
ssystem in orbit around Europa.

Of course in this day & age, any machine these days has hardware OpenGL acceleration so it is pretty trivial to run this program.

The artifacts in the picture were common at the time, and it’s how I remember it all those years ago so I’m not to worried about it.

I tried to compile with Visual C++ 4.0 however when trying to link I got this error:

Microsoft (R) 32-Bit Incremental Linker Version 3.00.5270
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corp 1992-1995. All rights reserved.

init.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol _glBindTexture
ssystem.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol _glBindTexture
stars.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol _glBindTexture
init.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol _glGenTextures
astrolib.exe : fatal error LNK1120: 2 unresolved externals
NMAKE : fatal error U1077: ‘link’ : return code ‘0x19’

I’m not sure why, as I re-compiled with Visual C++ 6.0 and I get a working executable.  More bizarre if I try to link the objects that were compiled with Visual C++ 4.0 with Visual C++ 6.0 it also fails in the same way.

I’ve placed in everything I could find into this archive: ssystem-1.6.7z including a pre-compiled version, and the high resolution images.  Along the way I also did find a backup of the site which actually has a much smaller download of ssystem 1.6 as  You may need to play with ssystem.conf to get a more respectable display.  I have also tweeked it to work find on my machine, using the highest values I could get away with, without running over the 2GB per process limit on 32bit processes.


Let’s also not forget the SETI crazy of the 1990’s.

NASA space probe data

While nothing to do with emulation, I came across this ftp server with all kinds of data from NASA probes.

It’s got all kinds of readings, and even some programs to interpret the data.. (FORTRAN from what I saw). It’s got to be one of the better clearing houses of space probe data available… I suppose later on I’ll see what’s involved in running some of these programs.. But I wouldn’t hold your breath…!

Even for the less inclined, there is jpeg & tiff data!

For example here is a picture from the viking project on Mars:

Stunning to say the least.