Technology

NASA streamed its 1st video from deep space via laser. More important, it’s of a cat

It’s not every day that a video of a cat goes viral.

OK, it’s not every day that a video of a cat goes viral and marks a historical milestone for space exploration. But that’s what happened when NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment beamed an ultra-high definition streaming video back to Earth on Dec. 11 from 31 million kilometers away, or about 80 times the Earth-Moon distance.

The 15-second test video is part of a NASA technology demonstration aimed at streaming very high-bandwidth video and other data from deep space — enabling future human missions beyond Earth’s orbit, according to the space agency’s press release.

But more importantly, perhaps to some, is the subject of the video: a cat named Taters chasing a laser pointer on a couch. That’s it. That’s the whole video.

A computer screen in the mission support area shows Taters the cat in a still from the first high-definition streaming video to be sent via laser from deep space. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Everyone loves Taters,” explained Bill Klipstein, the tech demo’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He further explained that they wanted a fun video “to make this significant event more memorable.”

The video of Taters, who belongs to one of the employees at the JPL, was uploaded before the launch. The video signal took 101 seconds to reach Earth, sent at the system’s maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps). 

NASA researchers note “it paves the way for higher-data-rate communications capable of sending complex scientific information, high-definition imagery, and video in support of humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars.”

Cats in space

Somehow, this isn’t even the first time a cat video has been used to mark a technology transmission. Starting in 1928, a small statue of the cartoon character Felix the Cat was used to test early television broadcast transmissions. According to Poynter, the image was broadcast for two hours day, “simply turning on a turntable.” (Would watch.)

Taters also isn’t the first cat to make space-travel history. In 1963, a cat named Félicette (named after Felix the Cat, the very same cartoon character) had the honour in real life when France decided to send a feline into orbit

Félicette spent about five minutes in space and survived, only to be euthanized two months later so scientists could examine how space flight affected her body, according to BBC.

In 2019, after a Kickstarter campaign was launched to honour the cat’s contributions, a bronze statue of Félicette was unveiled at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

One can hope for a happier outcome, but similar accolades, for Taters.

A bronze statue of a cat
Félicette, the first cat in space, has been honoured with a statue at the International Space University in France. (Kickstarter )

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