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  • Frits Westra
    Moon mission will talk to web surfers 13:56 03 February 04 NewScientist.com news service http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994633 The first
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2004
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      Moon mission will 'talk' to web surfers

      13:56 03 February 04

      NewScientist.com news service

      http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994633

      The first commercially-funded lunar spacecraft - scheduled to launch later
      in 2004 - will be able to communicate with space enthusiasts via the
      internet as it travels towards the Moon.

      California-based company TransOrbital has signed a deal with US computer
      manufacturer Hewlett-Packard to allow internet users to contact its craft,
      Trailblazer, as it travels through space.

      Trailblazer will be equipped with a computer built by Hewlett-Packard that
      will receive messages sent via a website back on Earth. It will then send
      a brief acknowledgement to indicate that the message was received.

      "We would like to open space up to everybody," says company president
      Dennis Laurie. But any would-be space hackers will be disappointed. Laurie
      says this computer will be completely separate from the craft's onboard
      control systems: "We're not going to let you at the spacecraft."

      Video footage

      TransOrbital says the $20 million lunar mission has an 80 to 90 per cent
      chance of going ahead in October or November 2004. The mission was
      originally scheduled for launch in 2001 but has suffered two delays.

      The 110-kilogram spacecraft will launch from the ex-Soviet cosmodrome in
      Baikonur, Kazakhstan. It will spend roughly three months orbiting the
      Moon, taking high resolution images and video footage, before deliberately
      plunging into the lunar surface.

      Laurie says TransOrbital hopes to eventually develop craft that could land
      safely on the surface of the Moon. These landers could be used to store
      data for customers back on Earth, he suggests. Such extraterrestrial data
      would be immune from natural disasters back on Earth, Laurie says.

      But some experts doubt the viability of this plan. Max Meerman, a space
      engineer currently at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, says
      landing on the Moon is notoriously difficult. Even if a lander survives
      this test, its electronics would have to withstand cosmic radiation and
      its power source would need to survive the long, cold lunar nights, which
      last two Earth weeks.

      Data haven

      Brian Gladman, an independent expert in data security, says a lunar data
      haven "might be beyond the reaches of laws designed to have force on
      Earth". But he adds: "I am pretty sure that this would be a loophole that
      would get closed if it became a widely used way of getting round data
      controls."

      TransOrbital aims to finance its first mission by selling its lunar
      imagery. The company says thousands of people have also signed up to send
      items, including business cards and text messages, to the surface of the
      Moon.

      These will be carried in a 10 kilogram reinforced capsule. Upon the
      craft's impact, the capsule should burrow five metres below the Moon's
      crust. Sending a business card aboard Trailblazer costs $2500. Other
      possessions can be sent for $2500 per gram and engraved text messages for
      $17 each.

      "Early accepters will buy things for their novelty value," Meerman told
      New Scientist. "What the follow-on market looks like is anybody's guess,
      but good luck to TransOrbital."

      Will Knight

      © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
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