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'Do You Have a License For That?' Astronauts Control an Earth 'Car' From Space [VIDEO]

Aug 16, 2014 07:06 PM EDT
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Just last week, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) drove a car-sized rover back on Earth during a demonstration of the European Space Agency's (ESA) latest advancements in remote communication software.

Astronaut Alexander Gerst steered the ESA's massive rover Eurobot around a small course and directed it to conduct a number of intricate tasks during a 90-minute live link between the rover and the ISS.

Gerst, who is currently stationed on the ISS, reportedly had great success in controlling the rover from an estimated 250 miles (400 km) above Earth's surface as the station orbits at more than 17 miles- (28 km) per-hour.

"Today's result is even better than the simulations we conducted," Daniela Taubert, the operations coordinator said in a statement. "The whole experiment ran extremely smoothly. Alex was faster and more efficient that we had expected."

So what's the point of Gerst showing off his RC-car skills from orbit?

The ESA was showcasing the latest in remote control technologies - the same technologies that will grant the ESA and NASA more control and piece-of-mind when conducting extraterrestrial rover missions.

(Photo : ESA / ÖWF / P. Santek) The Eurobot Ground Prototype (EGP) and Aouda.X spacesuit mockup along with the Long Term Medical Survey System (LTMS), were tested in Mars-like terrain of Spain's Rio Tinto mines in April 2011.

Currently, planetary rovers like NASA's Mars Curiosity rover can only be controlled in real-time when there is a direct line-of-sight link through orbiting satellites. The rest of the time, a rover either conducts predesignated tasks, or bides its time collecting sunlight. Now new technologies will attempt to tackle some of the flaws in this initial design.

In the event that a signal is unexpectedly lost for instance, a redesigned network can store commands which are then forwarded to a rover once contact is reestablished.

"This was the first time Eurobot was controlled from space as part of an experiment to validate communication and operations technologies," noted Kim Nergaard, head of Advanced Mission Concepts at the ESA operations center.

"It is great to have a hands-on test of part of ESA's long-term strategy to send humans and robots to explore our Solar System,' added the project's engineer.

You can view a short video of Gerst controlling the rover in real-time below.

[Credit: ESA]

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