Do astronauts have WiFi?

08 January 2019

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Question

What's the WiFi situation in space? Do astronauts get Netflix?

Answer

Chris Smith put Rhian's question to Space Boffin Richard Hollingham...

Richard - Well sort of. There is wifi on the space station. You'll probably see pictures of the space station, you'll see astronauts with iPads or laptops not connected by cables. So they have wifi but it's not really connected to the internet as such. So they can access the internet, but mostly they are accessing NASA's communication system, which is provided by these satellites called TDRS, which are tracking and data relay satellite. You mention the International Space Station spinning around the Earth in low-Earth orbit.

Chris - It’s an orbit every hour and a half isn’t it?

Richard - Yeah, every 90 minutes. Then above that, in geostationary orbits, are spinning at the same rate as the Earth, so they’re just sitting there above the Earth, there are these 10 satellites which act as a data relay to the ground. So using those you can get HD video, you can get pictures, you can get mostly all the data that NASA uses. You see pictures or videos of astronauts on the space station, it’s pretty good quality. That also means you can send up movies. So yes they have a movie night, usually I think on a Saturday or Sunday night, so they have movie night on the space station. They have a screen, they have a projector and they can all sit around in the sort of dining area watching movies, but it's not Netflix.

Chris - You’ve interviewed a lot of astronauts haven't you? What do they tend to watch? Because there are a lot of sci fi films, space films out there that's a little bit kind of pathetic if you're actually up there doing it for real.

Richard - They do. They love their sci fi. They love Apollo 13. You know, they love a disaster. They love a disaster in space.

Chris - Is that the sort of visual equivalent of sort of masochism?

Richard - I was intrigued, the other day I was on a plane and I watched an aircraft disaster movie. You can do that on planes. Same way in Antarctica. So Antarctic midwinter, they watch the Antarctic horror film ‘The Thing’ and that's the annual movie in Antarctica. There is this, I think you know, they’re astronauts aren't they, I mean they're not afraid of anything.

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