You can talk to almost anyone, in any corner of the world, almost instantly because of the Internet and other advances in electronic communication. Scientists and space explorers now are looking for a way to communicate almost instantly beyond Earth. The next phase of the Internet will take us to far reaches of our solar system, and lay the groundwork for a communications system for a manned missions to Mars and planets beyond.

Satellites circling Mars could help send information back to Earth over an interplanetary Internet.

If we ever want to find out more about other planets, we will need a better communication system for future space missions. Today, communication in space moves at a snail's pace compared to communication on Earth. There are several reasons for this:

  • Distance -- On Earth, we are only a fraction of a light second apart, making Earth communication nearly instantaneous over the Internet. As you move farther out into space, however, there is a delay of minutes or hours because light has to travel millions of miles, instead of thousands of miles, between transmitter and receiver.
  • Line of sight obstruction -- Anything that blocks the space between the signal transmitter and receiver can interrupt communication.
  • Weight -- High-powered antennas that would improve communication with deep space probes are often too heavy to send on a space mission, because the payload must be light and efficiently used.
There's a good chance that humans will travel to Mars before we see the beginning of a new century. How will we communicate with these distant travelers? Scientists, engineers and programmers are already working to develop an interplanetary Internet that will connect us to probes and human space travelers, and allow more information to be sent back to Earth. If you've ever wanted to travel into space, then this edition of How Stuff Will Work will show you how the interplanetary Internet will enable anyone to travel into space -- the way the Internet allows us to visit foreign lands without leaving our desks -- and what technologies will support such an astronomical communications system.