updated 03:45 pm EST, Fri November 9, 2012
Astronaut controlled LEGO toy on Earth from the ISS
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have tested the feasibility of an interplanetary network connection by using LEGO. Using NASA's Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol, the agencies hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of methods for Internet-like communications that may in the future connect space vehicles in orbit or habitats on another planet.
Commander Sunita Williams used a NASA-developed laptop to control a small LEGO robot located at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany. Maneuvers sent from aboard the International Space Station reached the robot, which carried out the instructions, in what was to simulate a scenario where an astronaut would control a remote rover on a planet's surface. Data from sensors mounted on the robot were sent back to the ISS, long with video image from on board cameras.
The DTN architecture allows for standardized communications to function over extremely long distances, accounting for disconnections and errors as well as latency. Using the Bundle Protocol (BP), similar to how Internet Protocol (IP) works online on Earth, DTN transfers data between network nodes, storing packets temporarily while the connection to the next "hop" is established. The entire bundle of packets is then forwarded to the next node, and the entire process is repeated until the final destination is reached.
The experiment took place in "late October," according to NASA.