science -- October 24, 2013 at 1:42 PM ET
Broadband lands on the moon
Humans have made great advancements in space technology since man first ventured to the moon in 1969. One area of focus that has slipped by the wayside, however, is lunar communication. Messages sent between Earth and the moon are still as static-filled as they were when Neil Armstrong proclaimed "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
But no longer: NASA has announced that it has launched a lunar broadband connection.
Using pulsed laser beams, NASA's Laser Communication System Demonstration (LLCD) transmits data to and from the moon at a record-shattering rate of 622 megabits per second. The demonstration was just a test of the new communication system, but could signal a change in how scientists collect data from spacecraft and rovers.
John Grotzinger, project scientist for the Curiosity Rover, believes the new laser capabilities will really aid current NASA projects. "With this additional [laser] capability we would be less limited in terms of how much data we could both acquire and downlink to Earth," Grotzinger told NPR recently. "That would be a really nice improvement."
The system is not flawless yet - for instance, it won't work if conditions are cloudy on Earth, and trying to steady a laser beam that's traveling hundreds of thousands of miles away is no easy feat. But if perfected, it will be a huge help to communications in future deep space missions.