MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Broadband connections to the Internet are available all over the planet, but not out in space, until now. As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, NASA says it's just established a broadband connection to the moon.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: If I wanted to watch a really bad sci-fi movie about invaders from the moon, I can pull it up on my computer in seconds.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCI-FI MOVIE, "IRON SKY")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Character) I went to the dark side of the moon, but now I'm back. And the Nazis are coming to kill us all.
BRUMFIEL: But if I wanted to talk to someone from the moon, it would still sound a lot like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
BRUMFIEL: That was Neil Armstrong broadcasting from the moon back in 1969. Communications in deep space haven't changed a lot since then. Everyone still uses giant radio dishes to talk to rovers on Mars or spacecraft orbiting Mercury. Radio is dependable. But here on Earth, we've moved on. That trashy sci-fi movie comes to me via broadband. And broadband sends data in pulses of laser light.
DON CORNWELL: Our Internet is completely powered by pulsed lasers that run through optical fibers between our big cities.
BRUMFIEL: That's Don Cornwell, an engineer in NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Lasers are fast. They can send huge amounts of data a long way. But doing it from space presents a problem. Ever tried to use a laser pointer during a presentation?
CORNWELL: Try doing it over 400,000 kilometers.
BRUMFIEL: That's just what Cornwell and his colleagues have done. They put a laser transmitter aboard a probe called the Lunar and Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer, which is currently orbiting the moon. Using some very precisely aimed telescopes on Earth, they've been able to send and receive data at broadband speeds.
CORNWELL: We're currently demonstrating 622 megabits per second of data transmission from the moon down to the Earth.
BRUMFIEL: In the future, broadband lasers could allow scientists to gather even more data from the surface of Mars. And astronauts will be able to stream movies if they're bored on a trip to a distant world.
Jeff Brumfiel, NPR News.
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