NASA has reportedly successfully sent the world famous Mona Lisa to the moon, part of a test aimed at developing the next generation of deep space technology.
The U.S. space agency announced on Friday the successful transfer of the image to the surface of the moon, saying the transfer represented an important first for the team of engineers.
NASA reportedly transferred Leonardo da Vinci’s painting via a series of lasers, part of a project aimed at developing technology to communicate long distance across space. The U.S. space agency decided the best way to test their ability to communicate via laser to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was by sending an image of the famous painting.
According to NASA, the image transfer, which required precise timing. The laser signal, fired nearly 240,000 miles in digital from the Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging (NGSLR) station at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on the spacecraft, divided the Mona Lisa image into an array of 152 pixels by 200 pixels. In addition, scientists assigned each pixel a shade of gray, represented by a number between zero and 4,095. The pieces were then received by LOLA, which allowed NASA to reconstruct the image and account for any distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA scientists were able to confirm the image transfer after sending the image back to Eart using its normal form of communication: radio waves. All in all, the entire process was accomplished at a data rate of about 300 bits per second — fairly respectable considering the distance.
The Future of Space Communication?
Having demonstrated the success of the transmission, NASA says it is now considering relying on laser communications with its next major Lunar mission. The test, which could lead to the next generation of space communication, will likely play a major role in NASA communicating with interplanetary spacecraft.
Already the space agency has announced plans to move beyond low-Earth orbit as it seeks to increase its presence in the solar system. NASA has plans to land astronauts in an asteroid by the end of the decade, possibly requiring more advanced forms of space communications.
The Moon: The Next Frontier
NASA’s first step towards developing advanced space communication technology comes as a number of nations have refocused their space agency’s goals around missions relating to the moon. Already China, India, and Europe have announced plans, in one form or another, to reach Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor. NASA, which recently crashed a pair of orbiting probes into a lunar mountain, has spent much of the last year studying the lunar surface, possibly in preparation for more advanced missions.
The agency recently announced the creation of the Lunar Data Project, an ongoing effort to make the scientific data from past Apollo missions available in modern formats. The project comes as NASA has also announced plans for the the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, which is slated for launch later this year and will focus on mapping the lunar atmosphere and environment.
Watch the NASA video explaining the test: