NASA tests Internet command

It's now the Out-Of-This-World Wide Web.

A demonstration this month at the Johnson Space Center in Houston may

open the way for the command and control of space operations from the ground

via the Internet.

"For longer than 30 years we've been controlling things in space from

the ground, but what's different about this [project] is NASA is looking

at harnessing the power of the terrestrial Internet and pushing that into

space," said Phillip Paulsen, project manager for Internet in space at NASA's

Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

The experiment, conducted Nov. 1-3, followed one performed a year ago

and proves the feasibility of controlling experiments in space from the

ground without compromising other operations in space, according to Paulsen.

During the test, operators at several locations on Earth sent commands

via the Internet to a simulated spacecraft at the Johnson Space Center.

The commands were directed first to a specially developed control center

at Johnson for handling and securing the transmissions between ground and

space, then up to a NASA tracking and data satellite, and finally to the

simulated craft back at Johnson.

The mission commands were simple — basically creating a vacuum in a

bell jar and turning lights on and off. But Paulsen said they were significant,

not only to prove the capability but also to test mission priorities.

For example, he said, "what do you do if multiple researchers are all

trying to access their experiment, or if you have a high-priority user trying

to get in while someone else is hogging the bandwidth?

"The list [of concerns] is endless," he said.

The next step, he said, is to conduct a demonstration using an operation

spacecraft of some kind.

"I'm hoping that in the not-too-distant future we can use an orbital

test bed — operated off the space shuttle or the space station, or even

a small standalone satellite," he said.

As with many NASA projects, however, that will have to wait.

"Right now, we don't have the funding," he said.

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