Moona Lisa? NASA sends digital image of famed painting to moon's orbit
NASA scientists beamed a digital image of the Mona Lisa to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, located 240,000 miles from earth. (Image courtesy Xiaoli Sun, NASA)
Published Friday, January 18, 2013 1:18PM EST
Renaissance art collided with the future of space communication when a team of scientists successfully beamed a digital image of the Mona Lisa to a moon satellite.
Scientists with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) announced Thursday they had sent a digital replica of the iconic 16th century image 240,000 miles from the Goddard Flight Center in Maryland to their spacecraft located at the moon.
The exercise marked the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances, said David Smith, a principal investigator of the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter instrument, in a statement.
"In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distant future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."
Typically, satellites that travel beyond Earth’s orbit use radio waves for tracking and communication.
The task was an exercise in precise timing for the LRO tracking team, which used the existing laser tracking signal from the Next Generation Laser Ranging station at Goddard.
The Mona Lisa image was divided into pixels which were then transmitted by a laser pulse during a brief allotment of time. The image was transmitted at a data rate of about 300 bits per second, scientists said.
To fix errors introduced by discomposure in the earth’s atmosphere, the tracking team used correction coding typically used in CDs and DVDs.
Scientists were able to verify the success of the laser transmission when the spacecraft’s radio system sent the image back to earth.
The transmission marked a shift toward new methods of transporting data from orbit to ground and through the solar system.
"This pathfinding achievement sets the stage for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), a high data rate laser-communication demonstration that will be a central feature of NASA's next moon mission, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer," Goddard's Richard Vondrak, the LRO deputy project scientist, said in the statement.
NASA is set to launch the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission this year to gather information about lunar atmosphere and surface conditions.