ET, phone

NASA's announcement last week that it would begin exploring the development of an interplanetary Internet gave new meaning to the tired phrase "thinking out of the box."

In what could pass as a plot for an upcoming Steven Spielberg movie, NASA scientists last week detailed a plan to build an Internet-like network in space for future NASA-led missions and potential colonization of other planets. As the story goes, this so-called "Interplanet" would allow humans exploring and living in space to communicate with colleagues on Earth and in other space colonies.

While the concept may seem outlandish to some, particularly those tasked with fixing such mundane government IT problems as computer code that can't recognize the year 2000, the interplanetary Net is a logical extension of our current communications system. Indeed, the trail-blazing plan is indicative of the pioneering spirit and unbridled creativity that mark many of NASA's successful space programs. It wasn't so long ago that people thought NASA's goal of putting a man on the moon was absurd.

But with all due respect, what planet are you from, NASA? Even in a world in which ubiquitous communications and universal service are so highly regarded, the NASA plan is light years ahead of its time. While hardware and software needed to construct the Interplanet will be delivered to Mars via spacecraft in 2001, no plans exist for human exploration of the solar system.

Indeed, by the time human colonies dot the planets, the Internet equipment currently in use will be akin to tin cans and string.

NASA should focus on more realistic challenges and build on recent successes such as the Mars Pathfinder. In the words of one famous extraterrestrial: Phone home, NASA.


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