A scientist's simple animation shows why there won't be a way to communicate with astronauts on Mars in real time
- NASA plans to send humans back to the moon and, eventually, to
- Communicating with Mars
astronauts42 million miles away would require patience: Even at the speed of light, it takes three minutes to send a signal from Earth to Mars.
- A planetary scientist's simple animation shows why we probably won't be able to video chat any Mars astronauts.
One of the most difficult things about a crewed Mars mission, of course, is the 42-million-mile distance — not just traveling that far, but communicating planet-to-planet.Light speed is the fastest that any object can travel through
James O'Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), made a simple
All in all, it takes three minutes and two seconds to send a signal from Earth to Mars at light speed.
How NASA communicates with Mars robotsThe light-speed radio waves beaming through space in O'Donoghue's animation are exactly how NASA communicates with its Mars robots. But that could change by the time it launches astronauts to the red planet. For now, rovers and landers on the Martian surface beam radio signals up to spacecraft that orbit Mars, which then relay the radio waves to Earth. Here, a global system of radio antennas called the Deep Space Network (DSN) pick up the signals.
If mission controllers want to send a command to a robot on Mars, the signal follows the same path: DSN antenna beam it across space to Mars-orbiting satellites, which then send it down to the surface.
That's how NASA will manage its newest rover, Perseverance, which launched in July and is currently en route to Mars.NASA has communicated across space via these radio waves — and nothing else — since it began launching humans in the 1950s.
But the agency plans to upgrade to space-laser communication by the time it launches its first astronauts to Mars.
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