NASA's new "spacecraft" ideal for small families
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- May 01, 2000
Part of the groundwork for last month's test of off-the-shelf technology
for earth-to-spacecraft communications was laid in February 1999, when NASA
engineers launched the Voyager — Plymouth Voyager, that is.
The team working on NASA's Operating Missions as Nodes on the Internet
(OMNI) project outfitted a Plymouth minivan with scientific and communications
equipment similar to that found on an actual satellite. While OMNI team
members drove the Plymouth Voyager minivan — also known as the prototype
spacecraft — around Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., personnel
at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, pretended to be scientists
and brought up a Web site that provided controls for the video camera on
The minivan was loaded with instruments, including a weather station
that produced data, a Global Positioning System receiver and a Web video
server. The team also put a standard Internet router in the minivan and
used NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System to relay the data to
the agency's ground station at White Sands, N.M.
The Voyager demo garnered so much interest that former shuttle astronaut
Ronald Parise, now a senior scientist at Computer Sciences Corp., deployed
the same prototype spacecraft — minus the minivan — on a ship in the Black
Sea on Aug. 11, 1999, to capture the last solar eclipse of the millennium.
Using the prototype, the ship's crew provided live weather data and images
of the eclipse via the Internet — and attracted about 7.5 million hits during