Baltz Algorithmic Generator of Spectra

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The Baltz Algorithmic Generator of Spectra (BAGS) was designed in one overnight session while Samuel Baltz was visiting Silver Seas 2018 as a low-effort way for simulators to give the astronauts one initial peek at the compounds they find on various planetary surfaces.

For many many years, spectrum analysis of surface sample collection was a primary tool in the astronaut toolbox during the annual Main Mission. However, the Alpha hardware for sample collection and analysis was much more developed and impressive than the software. Typically astronauts would collect samples from a planetary surface, place them in the hotbox, and perform arbitrarily elabourate analyses of them, but then there were comparatively few tools with which to follow up and analyze the results. Many elabourate analyses were done, but these were often very effort-intensive for the Admiral and the simulators to design and produce, and it would typically take until well after the mission ended for club members to learn even the most superficial details about what they had discovered in space.

BAGS was not meant as a replacement for more sophisticated and work-intensive tools like mass spectrometry, but rather as a way for simulators to rapidly and efficiently give the astronauts a puzzle (ideally occupying an astronaut for perhaps 30-60 minutes during a night shift) so that they can quickly determine what sort of compounds they have encountered in space.

BAGS's representation of water

Theory and Usage

The software was designed to produce a picture which looks like the atomic spectral lines corresponding to any chemical compound of interest. After a sample is collected from the surface of some astronomical body, simulators can rapidly open BAGS and tweak the proportions of the available (pre-programmed) elements to generate a spectrum that represents the compounds they seek to represent. Note that this is not exactly the same as the spectrograph reading that you would get by inserting a molecule of that compound into a spectrograph; rather, this represents the spectral lines of the constituent atoms of any arbitrary element, if you broke it down into piles of atoms corresponding to their proportion in the compound, analyzed each of those, and superimposed the results onto one spectrograph reading. The software works this way purely because there is no straightforward way to generalizably produce the actual molecular spectra (instead every single compound that simulators might wish to represent would have to be manually pre-programmed in), and because this is sufficient to communicate what the element is without betraying the scientific background of the exercise.

Once the simulators have generated the spectrum that corresponds to whatever compound they are trying to represent, they can easily save an image file and then save it to the astronauts' computers. Then, the astronauts can open the image file and a list of of what different elemental spectra look like, and look for the underlying elemental spectra patterns to try to figure out what compound they've discovered.

Current State

As of shortly after Silver Seas 2018, BAGS supports hydrogen, helium, carbon, and oxygen. Every subsequent element will unfortunately have to be manually programmed in. Requests for more elements should be sent to Samuel Baltz. The current highest priority is silicon, because robots.


The full BAGS code is available on Samuel Baltz's GitHub, from which it should be downloaded onto the 440 computer network for use by simulators. Baltz notes that the magic numbers and extreme fragility of the code betray that it is really more of a design/art project than a programming project.