Or is it that the technology ISN'T new, exiciting, revolutionary, and
indeed is brought to us by the same old guard as the first net, and the
hunch that this isn't where the true future lies? --RK]
[PS. I went to search for "interplanetary internet", and the #1 hotbot
reference was... FoRK. No hard data on the project yet; though #10 was
amusing: "We would like to welcome you to the staff of the Martian
Sun-Times, the first interplanetary internet newspaper. "
July 22, 1998
An Interplanetary Internet Is In the Works
By BRUNO GIUSSANI
GENEVA -- "It's now time to start thinking beyond the Earth and get
working on the design of an interplanetary Internet." Vinton Cerf,
widely considered the "father of the Internet," surprised participants
at the Internet Society's annual conference on Wednesday by revealing
that work has been under way for the last few months to extend the
reach of the Internet to outer space.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and major telecommunication companies
are involved in the project.
"The next mission to Mars is now in the planning phase, and it is
important to make sure that the Internet protocols are used in its
communication architecture", said Cerf, a senior vice president with
MCI Communications Corp.
The project would involve the creation of orbiting Internet gateways
to allow Internet-based communications to flow between the Earth and
Mars -- or other planets.
Cerf is a highly regarded figure in Internet circles, largely because
of his role in developing the TCP/IP protocol -- the set of basic
rules that govern communication between computers on the Internet. So
the crowd took his words seriously -- except perhaps when he
half-jokingly said that "one day we may need to create a localized
'.mars' domain name to be used in Internet addresses."
It's likely that within the next 20 to 30 years, manned missions to
outer space will become almost commonplace, Cerf said.
"We have, therefore, to make sure that as spatial exploration goes,
the Internet will be there to allow communication between the Earth
and the scientists and astronauts -- and maybe one day even tourists
-- that are up there," he said.
The same Internet architecture may also facilitate the control of
robot-based machines used to explore distant planets. Delays and
errors in communication flows disrupted the Mars Pathfinder mission
"Given the time it took to develop the Internet -- the basic research
started in 1969 -- and considering the fact that we are talking about
putting hardware and software in outer space, we have to start working
on this now," Cerf said.
In this way, he added, "when we get to a point when we need all the
services we have on Earth, but on, like, Mars, we have an
infrastructure in place."
Cerf suggested that a likely initial scheme would be to progressively
launch Internet Interplanetary Gateways (IIG) around the Earth and
other planets that will act as routers for Internet traffic.
Packets of data being sent to a Mars station would, for example, be
sent to the IIG satellite orbiting around the Earth using the Internet
Protocol (IP). After being automatically repackaged, they would be
transmitted to the Mars IIG using special long-delay protocols already
developed by NASA, converted back into the initial IP form and then
sent down to Mars.
"Think of the Internet as it works today: it is a set of networks
connected one to another by routers," Cerf said. Routers are special
computers that manage and direct traffic flows on a network.
The new project, he said, "would connect the Earth's Internet with
Mars' using the Interplanetary Gateways as routers."
But why use a system based on Internet standards?
One reason is standardization. Until now, NASA and other national
space administrations have created specialized software for every
Yet IP is rapidly establishing itself as the universal protocol for
digital communications. So why not use it in space? "IP works on top
of any transmission system, and every communication can be made -- and
is increasingly made -- over IP," Cerf said.
Secondly, Cerf added, there is a cost issue involved. NASA has often
abandoned the special software and hardware designed for a mission
after it has served its purpose. "But if you have a standard Internet
Interplanetary Gateway orbiting around Mars, once the mission is over,
it remains there and can be used again," he added.
In response to a question, Cerf said that research done to ensure
smooth and reliable communication at low speed over long distances in
space "could help solve the problems of high-speed, high-density
Internet traffic down here on Earth."
This, in turn, may give the United States the control over an Internet
technology that is several generations ahead of today's.
The Internet Society conference will last until Friday in Geneva. It
will be followed by an an international summit of policy makers and
corporate representatives convened to discuss the future of the domain
name system, the Internet's addressing standard.
Ira C. Magaziner, President Clinton's Internet adviser, and Robert
Verrue, the head of the European authority responsible for the
development of information infrastructure, are scheduled to attend.