NET NEWS: Mars to Join the Net?

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Science  12 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5404, pp. 899
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5404.899c

Although the notion of an Internet strung out to the planets may sound like pie in the sky, it's starting to look within reach. NASA's wish list in the president's year 2000 budget request announced last week includes $9 million for what could be the first strand of an interplanetary Net: a data transmission network around Mars.

The Mars Network would be “a very wide bandwidth communications link” to send continuous data between Earth and Mars, says NASA solar system exploration chief Carl Pilcher. The info, which might range from photos of Mars's surface to martian weather reports, would use Internet-compatible protocols so that scientists and the public could easily access it. Part of the Jet Propulsion Lab's (JPL's) Mars Surveyor program, which is sending several missions to Mars over the next 6 years, the Net plan also would include “micromissions” to launch small telecomm satellites around the Red Planet.

“We're cheering them on,” says Adrian Hooke, who heads another group at JPL that's contemplating a more ambitious—and futuristic—program to bring all the planets online (Science, 14 August 1998, p. 879). “You can consider this to be the first component of the Interplanetary Internet.” Net-savvy scientists and engineers will start hashing over the nuts and bolts of a Mars Network at a 4 March meeting at JPL, including whether NASA could use current Internet technologies such as wireless computing. Says Hooke: “We'd like to take as much of the Earth's Internet along as possible.”

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