ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Going Where No Standards Have Gone Before: an Interplanetary Internet

New York, Feb 27, 2007

A project underway at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory is truly out of this world. Teams from NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense—are working to hammer out a networking standard that will form the backbone of a future interplanetary system of Internets.

Dubbed InterPlaNet (IPN), the standard would enable spacecraft communication and the sharing of information across the solar system. Today, NASA spacecraft carry telecommunications equipment that enable them to correspond with Earth, but these devices lack the ability to link with those on other spacecraft.

Just as the Earth-bound Internet links terrestrial computers into one World Wide Web, the InterPlaNet protocol would provide a common language to enable communications among planetary stations and space probes. InterPlaNet is designed to cope with the vast distances of space, which cause the traditional protocols that underpin the Internet to break down. Data currently takes up to twenty minutes to travel between Earth and Mars. As part of the NASA Mars Exploration Program, the InterPlaNet project aims to have a well-functioning network between Earth and Mars by 2008.

The development of the InterPlaNet protocol is being overseen by Google vice-president Vint Cerf, who co-authored at DARPA during the 1970’s the family of protocols on which today’s Internet is based. Known as the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol—or TCP/IP—the specifications are referenced in a host of networking standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

NASA’s Technical Standards Program has as its primary mission the enhancement of NASA's engineering capabilities. To this end, NASA adopts voluntary consensus standards or develops NASA standards, where needed. Standards and guidelines used for NASA space programs are developed as necessary by NASA, within Department of Defense space programs, and by the companies responsible for building these systems. In areas such as materials specifications and testing, much standardization work is carried out through established standards developing organizations, such as ANSI members SAE (the Society of Automotive Engineers), ASTM International, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

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