Next Big Thing – interplanetary internet

Well, how else did you think you were going to instant message ET once he's got home?

I can't get a connection on the train, never mind on Mars.

That may be true but point-to-point radio links between spacecraft and Earth aren't going to cut it forever, are they? We'd feel safer rocketing into space knowing that DARPA (the research arm of the US Department of Defence) and Vint 'godfather of the internet' Cerf are working on extending the internet across the solar system.

Facebook for aliens?

That's not the main goal, funnily enough. A communications backbone across space would make it much faster to relay information to and from manned and robotic space explorations. And DARPA's latest pet project is to try to reach the nearest star in 100 years. Cerf is currently hard at work trying to develop a laser pulse with a signal that can be read across four lightyears – and quickly, we don't want instructions to take years to get there.

What about internetting closer to home?

Cerf's new Internet Protocols are being used on the International Space Station and are also on board a mission that should land on Mars in August – the plan is for any orbiters and spacecraft left floating around the solar system to become nodes of an interplanetary internet network. So astronauts could soon be addicted to Draw Something in a galaxy far, far away.

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