On Dec. 11, NASA engineers anxiously gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to view a cat video, wondering if it would be in the pristine high definition for which they had hoped.
To their relief, it was. For the first time, high-definition video — this one of a lab employee’s cat named Taters — was streamed from 18.6 million miles away, or roughly 80 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, the farthest ever.
The demonstration was part of NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment, aimed at improving the infrastructure for communication beyond the Earth’s orbit. As one example, if humans are to go to Mars, the need exists for larger amounts of data to be transmitted over a longer distance. This demonstration marked another step toward such a possibility.
“This would be like the same capability that you’d want to have if you’re sending an astronaut to the surface of Mars or something like that,” said Dr. Abhijit Biswas, the project technologist. “You want to have constant contact with them.”
The demonstration was done with the help of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, which was launched on Oct. 13 with the aim of exploring an asteroid with the same name. The D.S.O.C. experiment is using laser communications, as opposed to traditional radio frequencies, in an attempt to transfer large gobs of data at faster rates over greater distances. (The video is of Taters chasing a laser pointer. In 1928, a statue of the cartoon character Felix the Cat was used to test television transmissions.)
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