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New technology leads NASA to reevaluate the role of ground control

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As NASA tests new methods of communications, it reexamines how to divide control of spacecraft between the on-board crew and ground control.

Ed White NASA Gemini IV stock 1024
Ed White NASA Gemini IV stock 1024

When the Apollo space capsule was first designed, it was imagined that the astronauts themselves would be in control. "That wasn’t really practical with the technology of the time," says Professor David Mindell of MIT, "but that’s who [the designers] envisioned would be flying: people who could read those drawings and understand what was going on. Gradually, that knowledge got pushed out to those on the ground." As communication technology advances, however, it's raising questions about whether astronauts might someday get more control over their craft. One recent simulation, for example, lets them perform ordinary procedures all the way through without being interrupted for status updates by ground control. That's because control gets automatic updates from the equipment. Likewise, as astronauts head further away from Earth, delays in communication will expand, requiring them to take more initiative. Head over to IEEE Spectrum for a full piece on the changing relationship between crew and ground.