Do astronauts have internet in space?

Just noticed this interesting detail from the PBS NewsHour/YouTube/Google webcast earlier today, in which Miles O'Brien interviewed astronauts from the space shuttle and International Space Station about life in space -- while they were floating around in space. At one point, Miles asked astronaut Greg Johnson (pilot for the shuttle STS-134 mission) and Ron Garan (a current member of the International Space Station crew) a question posed by a YouTube viewer: "What kind of Internet connection do you get up there? Is it fast? Any restrictions, wink wink. What's the IP range of visits from outer space?"
GREG JOHNSON: Good question, DJ. As shuttle guys, we really don't partake in the Internet. We've got synchronizations with our emails. It kind of gives us a pseudo-email or pseudo-Internet to communicate with our families and friends and our associates. However, I'm going to pass this to Ronnie because on the station, I believe that they have a better Internet than we do on the shuttle.

RON GARAN: So this is something that is somewhat new is our capability to use the Internet. And how it works is we can be on a laptop here on the International Space Station and basically control remotely a PC or a computer down on the ground that is connected to the Internet. So it's - we're limited to when we have the correct communications coverage to be able to be on the Internet and there is some lag in it. So it does work slower than you're probably used to on the ground. But it's a very useful tool. And it really helps us to stay connected with what's going on, on the Earth.

Full transcript here. By the way, some of the astronauts mentioned during the webcast that they are tweeting from space, and you can follow them as they post photos and observations. Clearly, Twitter is not making them stupid.


  1. I predict that 50% of readers will read that headline twice and say, “Oh, internet.”

  2. The tubes don’t go that far? Surely they are sitting next to a satellite? ffs. Give them the innernets.

  3. Yes, follow the astros on twitter! The twitter nasa/space community is very active, and NASA has a large presence there. (some of us even got to go to the STS-134 launch…. :)

  4. do they have an open wi-fi hotspot … you know, just in case i’m wardriving in the area

  5. The best part of this whole thing is the new phrase, “Sex Hat.” I’m all over that.

  6. The latency to ISS orbit is actually not bad, light speed delay is somewhere on the order of a millisecond. The bigger problem is that the station is moving very quickly (over 17,000 mph), so in addition to having to switch antennas frequently, the radio transceivers have to compensate for some pretty heavy doppler shift.

    In terms of solvable problems, it isn’t that big a deal, they’ve got comms to the station all the time, but hooking up the internet over those channels isn’t a big priority.

  7. Still a much better internet connection than Bin Laden had. It was getting expensive sending those little flash-drive ferrying rockets up from local internet cafes.

  8. The latency to ISS orbit would be a couple of milliseconds direct from a ground station underneath- but the shuttle is served by NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System TDRSS satellites in geostationary orbit, so there’s a geostationary hop with handovers between geostationary footprints to allow longer communication. TCP performance through geostationary satellite is not high, but it does work – as DirecPC users will attest.

    Shuttle network technology is pretty old – 70s at best – and modern technology has been retrofitted. The OCA Orbiting Communications Adapter allows Ethernet onboard, with an interface to the legacy Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems CCSDS protocols used for shuttle communication. The International Space Station has routers and switches onboard – Cabletron and HP Procurve – to support all those shuttle and ISS Thinkpads. Not sure if they’re still using the old IBM qualified stock; I doubt they will have switched to Lenovo.

    Astronauts dictated the ‘first tweet from space’ and it was typed in on the ground. Remote access to a computer on the ground reflects security concerns, reluctance of CCSDS proponents to support IP, and management and monitoring of astronaut activity.

    Outside NASA, the Internet in space is more advanced. There are Cisco routers on satellites at LEO and GEO. The SSTL Disaster Monitoring Constellation DMC satellites all use IP for telemetry and data delivery, as did some other missions. Also read Keith Hogie’s papers on the Mobile IP experiments conducted with a payload carried in the bay of the last Columbia mission.

    And that Wikipedia article on Interplanetary Internet is pretty weak.

    1. Well, I was in a hurry! Sorry about that.

      Last I heard, the 486 was still the fastest space-qualified x86 processor…

  9. GREG JOHNSON: yo DJ you want to ******* know what kind of ********** internet we have? we have SATELLITE ******** INTERNET. cuz this is a M*****F****** SATELLITE, DJ!

    RON GARAN: yeah i don’t think you want to be on a soyuz launch or **** with like a cat-********-5 cable hanging out the ******* ******** window you know what i’m saying.

    GREG JOHNSON: **** yes, i do know what you are saying

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