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NASA Blows It Again

6:00 PM -- NASA, which has not exactly been on a roll lately, had until recently ambitious plans to extend the wireless Internet to Mars. The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter, which was scheduled to launch in 2009, would have served as an interplanetary Internet hub, transmitting floods of data from the expanding fleet of Mars probes, orbiters, landers, rovers, and cyborgs back to scientists on Earth.

According to Sam Churchill of Daily Wireless, MTO would not only have been a bonanza for cosmologists and Red-Planet specialists -- it would almost certainly have produced terrestrial telecom spinoffs. Orbiting 3,000 miles above the Mars surface, and operating in the X-band and Ka-band radio frequencies, MTO would also have transmitted data via laser beams, theoretically increasing bandwidth by a factor of 10.

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. The new budget for NASA, reflecting the renewed focus on manned spaceflight (i.e., showy public-relations feats rather than hard science), slashes funding for robotic missions like MTO and the Mars Sample Return Mission. The interplanetary Internet has been canceled.

Maybe the NASA naysayers are right and we should just scrap the whole damn agency.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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