LEGO & Science: A Match Made In Space
Friday, January 25th, 2013
There’s just something about the combination of LEGO and space — of fun and science — that sets imaginations running wild. From LEGO men travelling into the stratosphere, to science experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS):
by AJ Plunkett
These are your LEGOs.
These are your LEGOs on Bluetooth.
Now imagine this: NASA engineers and scientists — say Mohawk Guy — with LEGOs, Bluetooth, and a space-based Internet that can bounce its bundles and packets of information around the universe and back, at will. At your will.
With just the use of a cell phone and a signal that’s bounced, say via the ISS, there could be LEGO robots moving around on the Moon, setting up little LEGO memorials in honor of our astronaut heroes, past, present, and future. (Remember to wink at the moon every once and a while, for Mr. Neil Armstrong.) There could be LEGO rovers roaming the surface of Mars on a mission to satisfy Curiosity. Or a deep space LEGO outpost, ready to relay any message from a seemingly unstoppable Voyager.
Child’s imagination gone wild? Well, maybe a little. But not too wild:
Space Internet Is Here
Just a few months ago, Sunita Williams, the commander of Expedition 33 aboard the Space Station, demonstrated an experimental version of a space-based Internet by using a laptop to remotely drive a LEGO robot at the European Space Agency’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
For a few years now, NASA and others have been testing technology to extend the Internet into outer space. This presence of Internet in space would ensure that communications with future space explorers can be maintained in the midst of signal-disrupting solar storms or when spacecraft move behind and around planets.
Just as the Internet Protocol (IP) “serves as the core of the Internet on Earth,” the new technology dubbed the “Bundle Protocol” (BP) serves as the core of NASA’s Disruption Tolerant Network, or DTN, according to NASA.
The DTN is designed to maintain continuous communications by hopping information packets from outer space relay to outer space relay, with a system that accounts for disruptions by temporarily storing information and forwarding it on when the link becomes available.
“The experimental DTN we’ve tested from the Space Station may one day be used by humans on a spacecraft in orbit around Mars to operate robots on the surface, or from Earth using orbiting satellites as relay stations,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation.
Whether those robots are made out of LEGOs is anybody’s guess (how cool would that be). Though, we like to think it’s entirely possible considering that LEGO recently unveiled its new Mindstorms EV3 kit that allows anyone with an Android or an iOS mobile phone and Bluetooth to remotely control a semi-autonomous robot (see robot creature above).
The system has a programmable brick “upgraded with an ARM 9 chip, 64MB of RAM and 16MB of Flash,” and can also be operated via an iPad app, according to a recent post on engineeringontheedge.com.
It would take little imagination, childlike or otherwise, to see what’s likely to happen next: remotely controlled LEGO robots booking the next available spaces on a Virgin Galactic space flight somewhere.
The only real question is whom the LEGO astronauts will look like? Sally Ride? Yuri Gagarin?
My bet is on Mohawk Guy.
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries, as well as health care issues. AJ blogs via Contently.com.