March 19, 2013
The eternal quest for a faster Internet connection is again about to make the leap from the ground to orbit as our horizons keep broadening.
NBC News has a story on the future of space Internet connections. This issue becomes more and more important, as the article states, as civilians start making trips to space.
Dennis Tito was the first to join the club, giving the Russians $20 million to hitch a ride to the International Space Station. Tito recently upped the ante, seeking a couple to send on a round trip to Mars in 2018. That's just five years away!
With a trip to Mars or any other private venture into space, safety will obviously be the first issue to tackle. Radiation, waste disposal and fuel are just some of the issues awaiting anyone wanting to make the trek. But someone traveling either 500 days to Mars or just around Earth for a few hours is going to require entertainment. That means communication. That means Internet.
The NBC article says the ISS has a 300 megabit data connection, which is way faster than what most of us deal with. I just upgraded from 6 to about 25 megabits, which feels almost like going from dial-up to DSL a decade ago. But now someone rich enough to pay for a space journey in the next decade is going to want to take photos and video. And they're going to want to share them. Instantly.
So NASA, other space agencies and private groups get to engineer our next space network. The use of optical links is something that sounds really intriguing since light is the fastest medium to use that works -- space can move faster than the speed of light, but I don't think we can use empty space for data. Optical cables gained popularity for home theater audio before HDMI brought most people back to one cable. But they should start making a comeback in long data cables for computer devices in USB 3 and Thunderbolt devices.
That's all complicated, but I'm guessing shooting a laser at the moon is even moreso.
Now that we have people living in space continually and seem to be on the verge of tourism, I guess our pursuit of that faster speed will continue into the sky. Maybe NASA will learn something to help make our average connections faster down here that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
Michael Buckelew is a copy editor for the Gwinnett Daily Post. Email him at email@example.com.