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NASA Beams First Ever High-Definition Video from Space: Taters the Cat Chasing a Laser!
We're beaming cat memes from deep space!
Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat is one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time. He shows up unannounced to first make messes and then clean them up, teaching valuable life lessons along the way. He’s most famous for his slapstick adventure with Conrad and Sally, but also featured in the 80 episodes and five specials teaching kids about everything from shadows to mirrors. In the hour-long special The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Space (streaming now on Peacock), the titular feline takes some kids on a journey through the solar system.
Cats have been a part of actual space exploration since the early days, though their participation is limited. In 1963, the French space program launched a cat named Félicette on a suborbital rocket. She experienced more than 9g of acceleration and five minutes of weightlessness before returning safely to the Earth. She recently received a statue commemorating her contribution to space exploration.
Now, cats are once again making milestones in the race for space, this time in the form of a 15-second video transmitted from millions of miles away.
NASA Beams a High-Definition Cat Video from 19-Million Miles Away
In October 2023, NASA launched its Psyche spacecraft on a trip to the metal-rich asteroid of the same name. It isn’t there yet, but the spacecraft is busy doing science in the meantime. Among its many responsibilities, Psyche is testing a new class of space-based laser communications technologies intended to improve our aging deep space communications network. NASA just carried out its first test and it was a roaring success.
NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration used an encoded near-infrared laser to beam high-definition video from the Psyche spacecraft to Earth. After traveling a distance of 30 million kilometers (19 million miles), the beam was picked up by the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory. The video was then transmitted to JPL, where observers were treated to 15 seconds of an orange tabby cat named Taters chasing around a laser light.
The video could have been anything, and these sorts of tests usually incorporate random data packages, but the team wanted to have a little fun. So, an employee recorded a video of their own cat and uploaded it to the spacecraft before launch. While the video content is admittedly silly and undeniably cute, its successful transmission has important implications.
What Psyche's Laser-Beamed High-Def Cat Video Means for the Future of Space-Based Communications
“This accomplishment underscores our commitment to advancing optical communications as a key element to meeting our future data transmission needs. Increasing our bandwidth is essential to achieving our future exploration and science goals, and we look forward to the continued advancement of this technology and the transformation of how we communicate during future interplanetary missions," said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, in a statement.
The signal was transmitted at the spacecraft’s maximum rate of 267 megabits per second and has the potential to be up to 100 times more effective than conventional radio communications. As the spacecraft continues toward its namesake destination, it will send additional communications tests from as far as the orbit of Mars.
In spite of the spacecraft’s incredible distance, JPL scientists say they were able to send the data faster than most ground-based broadband connections. “In fact, after receiving the video at Palomar, it was sent to JPL over the internet, and that connection was slower than the signal coming from deep space,” said Ryan Rogalin, the project’s receiver electronics lead.
As the Artemis program moves forward and humanity takes its next steps out into the solar system, communications like this one will be used to send scientific data, audio and written communications, photos, and high-definition video from the Moon, Mars, and beyond. And it all started with a cat. Somehow, that feels right.
Learn about the solar system in The Cat in the Hat Know a Lot About Space, streaming now on Peacock.