Home Astronauts Might (Not) Have a Better Internet Connection Than You

Astronauts Might (Not) Have a Better Internet Connection Than You

Long have we waited the day when ReadWriteWeb writers would have a reason to post a space-related geekout. We are pleased to tell you that the Internet has come to the International Space Station, and thus, we bring you the first installment of ReadWriteSpace.

The down and dirty deets are as follows: 3Mbps up and 10Mbps down speeds via a KU-band satellite. According to our late-night, Twitter-powered research, this beats more than a few Earthlings’ connection speeds. To learn more about the hardware, servers, and how often the crew gets told to “just turn everything off then on again,” read on.

To be fair, we copped this information from an interview NASA’s Tyson Tucker and Joey Crawford gave to CNET’s Mark Harris. These two were the first IT guys responsible for ensuring uptime on the International Space Station (ISS), humans’ first permanent outpost in the final frontier. They were not in the space station themselves, but rather in the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Moving on to hardware, the space station houses 68 IBM ThinkPad A31 laptops and 32 Lenovo ThinkPad T61p laptops, one of which is a server. Between cabled routers and WiFi hotspots, our brethren in space have a few ways to connect to the Internet via their local network. Their connection also allows for limited video calls. But there are no iPods for astronauts – or relatively few, at least. The team reported that the crew don’t usually request to bring netbooks, gaming devices, or MP3 players aboard the ISS.

The ISS crew is connected to the Internet indirectly. Data is run through the ISS server and through NASA. Email for the crew is updated three times a day.

So, what happens when the system fails? Although the ISS crew is trained to respond to and repair common problems, the Houston ground crew maintains an exact duplicate of the space station’s network for extraordinary circumstances. When viruses infiltrate ISS machines, as they have in the past, the infected machines are quarantined; and from the notes we’ve read, hackers have not yet been able to affect ISS’s systems. Also, the ISS’s IT folks told CNET, “One thing that really impacts the crew’s day-to-day operations is if the file server itself fails. This forces them to reload the hard drive and re-establish all the network drives and all the apps. They actually have to get out the media and load the image to the hard drive… Over the last nine years, this has only happened twice.”

We hope to bring you more news on the Internet as it applies to space, but we have reason to believe these updates may be sporadic. Stay tuned, live long, and prosper.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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