Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Internet Launches Into Space

Now that the Internet has dominated Earth, it is moving out into space. It’s a little early to talk about Google ET browsers, but there are moves afoot to take the Internet out there into the vast unknown.

Orbiting satellite that may soon host a router in space.Well, these initial efforts are really about using Internet technologies within the Earth orbits we’re already so familiar with. Someday, though, we may be establishing planet codes and galaxy codes to complement today’s country codes. Let’s see what the first baby steps are all about.

The first endeavor is by Cisco to establish routers in orbit. In fact, the defense department has an entire program known as IRIS or Internet Routing In Space. The idea is to route IP packets between satellites without first having to beam them to Earth. Because of the long distances involved in any transmissions to and from space, it make sense to avoid the round trip to Earth whenever possible. This will also have the advantage of making space networks more autonomous and not subject to interruptions caused by problems on the ground.

The military gets first crack at using the prototype router aboard the Intelsat IS-14 satellite that was launched last year. After an exclusive 3 month DOD test program, the router will be turned over to Cisco for a year long period of commercial tests. After that, who knows? If things work out, there may be all sorts of routers buzzing overhead in the coming years. Some will be used to provide wireless broadband services to Earthlings. Others will be up to who knows what in the deep dark void.

On another front, Twitter has gone into orbit on the International Space Station. Last week, astronaut T. J. Creamer sent the first tweet from space. His first words? “Hello Twitterverse!”

Actually, the astronauts have been able to use email for some time. But this is the first availability of Twitter, the embodiment of Web 2.0, at the Space Station. Perhaps if NASA started monetizing the station as a reality show, they might be able to generate the funding that Congress is so stingy with. They need to launch something called the “Big Brother Module” and start doing kinky things in zero-g. That might be just the ticket to recovering public interest in the space program.

How about the Moon and Mars? It’s technically feasible to have live webcams on those rovers. Now, add the ability of people on Earth to issue rover commands and you’d have a sure-fire killer app. Of course, the fun would be over just as soon as some smart aleck send one of the vehicles over a cliff. Maybe you could have them draw your name in the Martian soil or something equally benign.

We’re just getting started exploring the final frontier that is outer space. Clearly, the Internet will have a big role in “space exploration, the home game.” Scientists may be interested in downloading all sorts of arcane data from spacecraft. The rest of us will just want to drive rovers, spy on astronauts, and tweet with ETs.

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