When your IT users are on Mars

Mars-surface

Both Elon Musk’s SpaceX program and Mars One are racing to colonize Mars. Meanwhile, the U.S. government wants to use the moon to “build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” as Vice President Mike Pence recently explained.

Who will be first to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, Mars and beyond? That’s impossible to know, but one thing we do know is that IT will be an essential component of any interplanetary communications network once humans do begin establishing a permanent presence beyond our planet. Which means IT pros on Earth eventually will be responsible for keeping vital data flowing to and from human communities and bases on the moon, Mars, and eventually (maybe) elsewhere.

I know, it all may sound far-fetched, even in 2017. But real people — more than 200,000 — actually have applied to be selected by Mars One as members of the first human settlement beyond Earth. Mars One plans to launch a demo mission in 2022 and the first human crew of four people in 2031, only 14 years from now.

SpaceX hopes to begin crewed flights by 2024, but its long-term goals are ambitious indeed — to transport as many as 1 million humans to Mars over the next 50 to 100 years. And a lot of those people are going to be IT pros who will be responsible for keeping networks and systems — some life-sustaining — up and running.

As for the network that will allow communications between Earth and its extraterrestrial colonies, that’s a work in progress. Internet pioneer Vint Cerf developed a set of extraterrestrial network protocols in conjunction with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to replace the point-to-point, radio-based Deep Space Network, which is slow and unreliable. It required a different approach, Cerf tells SiliconANGLE:

“All of our thinking about network management when we (designed) the TCP protocols for the Internet were based on assumptions of relatively low delay and high reliability. But for the Interplanetary Internet we realized the issues were just the reverse: high delays and low reliability. So in the end we developed a whole new suite of protocols.”

These new protocols will provide Mission Control with faster connections to equipment in space — if, that is, they are ever implemented.

“I am dumbfounded that (the Interplanetary Internet) hasn’t had the priority it deserves” from NASA, Cerf says, noting that “it is a tiny cost to finish standardization and implementation and it would create substantially more flexibility in mission design.”

Nothing about space travel and colonization is easy, and that includes keeping critical communications and data networks running. But whether they’re up there or down here on Earth, IT pros eventually will have to grapple with those challenges, which should put troubleshooting a server in the remote office across town in perspective.

RELATED LINKS

What program managers can learn from NASA

What do you do after you reach the moon?

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