Friday, July 25, 2003
Somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea
The work on the image van (actually two containers joined together) is going well. We've been sending "canned" images to test the system. The communication technicians from MCI are Scott Stamps, Mike Durbin, Jay Ayer and Issares (I never did get his last name). During the previous days I worked on and off with them hooking up equipment. Their container is on the upper deck next to the image vans and whatever signals go into or out of it go through the Sat (satellite) Van.
We have an amazing variety of communications. Before the satellite system came online, the MCI crew had been using cell phones to communicate with their counterparts in the U.S. After the sat system came online they were able to use a portion of the broadband signal to make regular phone calls.
They explain that the signal has to have enough bandwidth to send out up to five high definition and regular resolution video signals out simultaneously as well as two way audio. The signal is sent up through the dish antennae, which moves to track a satellite as it and the ship moves. The signal then bounces from the satellite to a "mushroom farm" (satellite ground station) in Maine where it then is sent through wires to Plano, Texas. In Plano the signal is sent from the MCI facility to Southern Methodist University (across the street) then back to the MCI facility and out to the University of Rhode Island's (URI) Coastal Institute and to the Institute for Exploration (IFE) in Mystic Connecticut. URI and the IFE then distribute the signal through the internet. Many of this crew are the same technicians who work on the JASON expeditions. After this voyage, this equipment is being sent to Panama for JASON XV.
I am particularly interested in how this all works because this is a major experiment to see if "virtual presence" is practical on expedition on earth and in space (Mars comes up a number of times in conversations).
Mike Durbin tells me that they have set up a wireless network for their computers. I have my new Apple G4 laptop with wireless capability built into it (which I had never used). I start it up, make one adjustment to tell the computer to use wireless networking, and suddenly I'm connected to my personal IP in Rhode Island and able to get my email as if I was back at home. Through some fluke of the satellite connection to URI, Mike tells me, I've probably have the world's record for the longest distance wireless network with a personal computer!
Almost all the scientific team connects their computers to the Knorr's shipboard network for email, etc., and it is limiting. Members of the team are talking about going wireless on the next expedition. Discoveries happen sometimes when you are not looking for them!