Web Meets Out-Of-This-World

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2008


2 days ago I watched another two 30min. videos from last month's Web2.0 Summit 'Web Meets World'. One an interview with Al Gore, the other one an interview with Michael Pollan. Given this year's theme 'Web Meets World', both interviews revolved around discussions on how best practices and business models from the web and software world could be applied to re-invent and/or re-invigorate other industries 'in the real world': the outdated energy industry in Al's talk, the dysfunctional food industry in Michael's talk.

Reading a book on the Django Web Application Framework last night, I realised this question just as much applies to the space industry. Its something I remember Pete Worden (our current NASA Ames Center Director) being pretty vocal about back in 2006. Teaching at the ISU Summer Session in Strasbourg, he made a strong case for the need for standards to facilitate innovation in the space industry. Standards for the data coming back from space, standards for the telecommunication protocols used in space, standards in launch and operational systems. And since he's been here at NASA Ames, he spearheaded an initiative to implement that kind of modular thinking in the actual physical design of a spacecraft, the Modular Common Spacecraft Bus (image above). Its an ubergizmo-worthy system design that can be used both for orbiter missions as well as for lander missions and that was recently selected by Odyssey Moon as their preferred platform to take a shot at the Google Lunar X-Prize.

I can see down the road a satellite gathering data somewhere in the Solar System is conceptually not that different from say a network of smartphones tied into a sensor network, or a webcam streaming images live on the web. Read for example what the Google Lunar X prize has in its competition guidelines in order to win the Grand Prize:

MOONCAST: The Mooncast consists of digital data that must be collected and transmitted to the Earth composed of the following:
High resolution 360º panoramic photographs taken on the surface of the Moon;
Self portraits of the rover taken on the surface of the Moon;
Near-real time videos showing the craft’s journey along the lunar surface;
High Definition (HD) video;
Transmission of a cached set of data, loaded on the craft before launch (e.g. first email from the Moon).
Teams will be required to send a Mooncast detailing their arrival on the lunar surface, and a second Mooncast that provides imagery and video of their journey roaming the lunar surface. All told, the Mooncasts will represent approximately a Gigabyte of stunning content returned to the Earth.

In the end, its all the same. Input devices (in this case: satellites) feed into the web, the web as platform extracts (collective) intelligence out of this data (if you're lucky), the network delivers the data/media to its users/consumers, and voila: Web Meets Out-Of-This-World. Its already happening (yes, it is). Or as one of my favorite quotes from William Gibson goes:

The Future is here, its just not evenly distributed yet.

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Data is the Intel inside
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The medium is the message
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