Interplanetary download times, then and now

Like many of you, I’ve spent much of this week refreshing various NASA social-media feeds to see the latest pictures from Pluto.

Voyager Neptune image

Neptune as seen by Voyager 2 on August 14, 1989.

New Horizons Pluto image

Pluto as seen by New Horizons on July 13, 2015.

Beyond the ongoing amazement that with less than half a penny of every federal dollar, NASA has taken our senses further into the solar system than anybody else in history, this has gotten me thinking of the last times we explored a planet for the first time.

When Voyager 2 flew by Uranus and then Neptune in 1986 and 1989, my download time to see color photos of either planet for longer than a brief spot on the evening news could span months. The New York Times was a black-and-white production, so I would have to wait for the inevitable National Geographic cover story that I would then read and re-read obsessively.

When the Web came around years later, it did not take me long to realize that magazine production cycles and the U.S. Postal Service would never again limit my ability to geek out over pictures taken by robot spacecraft billions of miles away.

And now we’re outright spoiled–I cannot keep track of the image catalogs maintained by various NASA centers. But to see full-resolution copies of the images captured by New Horizons this week, we will have to wait even longer than we did in 1986 and 1989: At 1,000 bits per second, the maximum bit rate available from 2.97 billion miles away, it will take 16 months to get a complete set of the spacecraft’s observations.

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Weekly output: Cable WiFi, travel WiFi, Internet governance, phone lanes, Find My iPhone vs. Android

In one way or another, wireless technology figured in all of my stories this week. But why should this week be any different from others?

7/15/2014: With Cable WiFi, Your Modem Is My Hotspot, Yahoo Tech

I’ve been working on this column for a while–my e-mail correspondence for it goes back weeks–and for once, the news cycle obliged by not throwing any breaking tech news at me on a Monday. I’m still trying to figure out how so many people say they hate the idea of Comcast turning their leased modem into a public hot spot but so few (according to Comcast) opt out of it.

7/15/2014: How to Stop (or Start) Sharing Your Internet Connection with Strangers, Yahoo Tech

To go with the column, I wrote a quick explainer about how to turn off Comcast’s Home Hotspot–or set up an openwireless.org guest account for anybody to use.

NowU domestic-bandwidth story7/15/2014: What You Need to Know About Staying Connected in the U.S., NowU

This Gannett site for empty nesters officially launched on Tuesday, but if you’d thought to visit that site on Sunday you could have read my advice on traveling bandwidth then.

7/16/2014: Issues Raised by New Technology: Policy Slam, Internet Governance Forum USA 2014

This part of this daylong conference at George Washington University was an audience-participation event: People were invited to step up to the podium and share their ideas about Internet-governance issues that we ought to focus on, and then I and the other judges picked ones to debate further and offered our own comments about them.

7/17/2014: Cellphone Talkers Get Their Own Sidewalk Lane in D.C., Yahoo Tech

A bit of an experiment staged for an upcoming National Geographic TV show led to this extra post (so, my thanks to NatGeo for the upcoming extra income). The piece got a blurb on the Yahoo home page, so this may have been seen by more people than anything else I’ve written. And then it got a BeyondDC/Greater Greater Washington writeup, which was also nice.

7/20/2014: Get a browser to work where it’s not welcome, USA Today

This column pretty much wrote itself once I realized Apple’s short-sighted and easily-circumvented decision to block Android browsers from its Find My iPhone page matched the New York Post’s foolish attempt to keep iPad users from reading its Web site.