For the first time, astronauts on board the International Space Station have personal access to the Internet and World Wide Web…at least when the station is at points in its orbit when it can take advantage of high-speed Ku-band links to ground stations. And if by “direct” you’re willing to accept using remote desktop software to control a ground-based computer using a notebook system on board the ISS. But still, it’s better than nothing, and Expedition 22 Flight Commander T.J. Creamer executed the first test of the system today, sending an unmediated live update to his personal Twitter account.
Astronauts have previously tweeted from space, but the system worked by sending the tweets groundside via email, where systems would then post them to Twitter on behalf of the crew members. The new systems enables astronauts to have personal, real-time Internet access so long as the Ku-band links are operating. However, the system is not just about sending tweets: astronauts will be able to use email, VoIP, and (with some limitations) use videoconferencing systems. The high latency to and from the ISS makes some real-time communications difficult, and the station must be careful about prioritizing bandwidth needs for personal crew Internet access alongside station functions.
While in space, by the way, astronauts have to abide by the same computer usage strictures as groundside government employees. We take that to mean they won’t be playing much World of Warcraft.
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