Can you imagine being off in an isolated, deserted area exploring. You have some sort of “incident” and realize you’ve been poisoned. Within two minutes you have located your phone and the 1-800 number for the Poison Control Center which you promptly call. They talk to you for two minutes to find out all the details of what exactly has poisoned you. It takes them another sixty seconds to discover the antidote and determine the proper course of action. It takes another sixty seconds for them to communicate this information. The last words the Poison Control operator says is, “The antidote must be delivered within five minutes to prevent death.” One minute too late. You’re dead. And THAT, dear readers, is exactly why NASA is developing a laser named OPALS. To avoid critical time delay effects on communications and astronauts who are in deep space.
NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) uses a laser beam to transmit data from the International Space Station to Earth. We Earthlings enjoy modern technology where we get instant gratification at the touch of a button (or voice command) when we need to communicate with anyone anywhere at any time about anything. The gringa is so spoiled, I get all aggravated when I get put on hold and have to listen to what is ALWAYS the most horrible music ever created by man. Well, avoiding time delayed transmissions is not about lowering aggravations levels of impatient astronauts. It’s about having technical support for the crew 24/7 to help them survive any possible crisis.
If astronauts relied on ancient radio wave technology, crew members could expect a lag time of over half an hour round trip. Yep, plenty of time for an astronaut to stub a cosmic toe and die. This just won’t do. And what if a crisis is happening back home? How awful for an astronaut to have an Earth-bound loved one who really needs a comforting or encouraging word and has to sit twiddling their thumbs for half an hour as the “I love you’s” and “You can DO IT” make the rounds between here and there. The gringa thinks, “Surely, in this day and age, we can do so much better!”
NASA conducted telecommunication research with the Comm Delay Assessment to see just what would happen to astronauts emotionally if they were cut off from contact completely and/or had pesky time-delay issues to deal with in communications. The performance of astronauts was analyzed as they completed six tasks with no time delayed communication and four where they experienced a 50-second time delay in communication. The no-brainer result was that the astronauts delivered a higher performance with a better mood when the communication was uninterrupted. With each delay, their mood got worse and more worse.
Yes, the gringa understands this. A memory of a cellphone flying out the front door in frustration and summarily receiving a well-aimed petite heel on the view screen comes to mind. I refuse to name names or give any further details. We’ve all been there. No need to judge the gringa. (I also once delivered a hammer blow to an alarm clock but that is fodder for another story).
Of course it was only normal for the crew to get frustrated when they needed to communicate quickly and had to sit around and wait. This only aggravates the already existing syndrome of “space brain”. This condition astronauts experience makes it harder to remember and comprehend things. The gringa is reminded again of a particular back and forth between my teenage son and I regarding help with my computer. I, too, have “space brain” and have never even had the privilege to “catch” this disease on a galactic mission. I call my son because I have done something to my laptop’s “home network”, didn’t have a clue what that meant, and couldn’t get on the Internet. The conversation goes something like this:
Me: “Son, I can’t get on the Internet.”
Son: “What does it say?”
Me: “Something about the home network.”
Son: “Okay, click on blah-blah-blah, then click on who-whatsit, and click OK.”
Me: “Got it. Piece of cake. Thanks. Love you.”
I hang up. I then realize I have no idea how to open the “home network” window. I call back (mind you he is at a party). He answers (thank God). I tell him my problem and he tells me what to do. I open the “home network” window then realize I forgot all the previous instructions. I call back. HE DOESN’T ANSWER! I call again. NO ANSWER! AAAAHHHHH! Time delay in a crisis! The gringa needs HELP!!! NOW!!! Yes. I know EXACTLY why the astronauts got a little moody.
And, what about having CLEAR communication? The astronauts also expressed that even more important than having instant communication was being able to understand what the heck was being said. This, too, the gringa totally understands. Every day the caveman and I talk on the phone while I walk the dog. At his job there is always a deafening din in the background not to mention his accent. On top of those issues is the fact that, by nature, he is a very soft spoken person. Mumblypeg is another affectionate I sometimes call the caveman. I cannot count how many times throughout the conversation I say the following words: “I can’t hear you.” “That made absolutely no sense.” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “I SAID I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” It is only the immense, unfathomable love I have for the caveman that preserves the life of my cellphone and it doesn’t end up under a certain petite heel of a person whom we all know and love yet shall remain nameless.
Unfortunately for these communications with the mumblypeg caveman the gringa will not get to enjoy the benefit of OPALS. The astronauts, however, will. They will get to enhance the safety of their deep-space mission with laser enhanced telecommunications technology. The time delay will be the same, but, at least, when the message finally does arrive the astronauts won’t be saying, “What the HECK did they SAY?!” Or, as they open their special delivery package from home they smack their foreheads and shout, “We said we needed more NAILS! Not SNAILS!” And then the bag is tossed out the spacelock in disgust and left to its fate on the inhospitable surface of Mars only to mutate and become gigantic Martian snails who exact their revenge on the astronauts who rejected them by sliming their exploration vehicle. Laser transmission will allow for clear as a bell communication of much more information that can be transmitted at one time as well as save us all from a future Martian snail slime war.
While Earthlings will be having the Neanderthal experience of watching television at about twenty megabits per second, the astronauts will be laser streaming videos at about 50 megabits per second and, without that pesky buffering. One day, one Martian will say to another Martian“Let’s “beam home” and see how grandma and grandpa are doing back in Texas!” The gringa will answer and say, “Having a beer on the beach, how ‘bout you?”
Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov