marsDr Vinton Cerf is at it again.

This time, it’s a protocol optimized for interplanetary communications. That’s right. Mars needs Internet service, but with a twist.

As reported in The Economist the limited bandwidth, long transmission times and uncertainty about whether the sender and receiver are actually facing each other at the appropriate moment in a transmission set the stage for a multi-stage store and forward protocol.

NASA calls it a delay- or disruption- tolerant network protocol (DTN). The design is pretty simple – routers around the solar system (Internationall Space Station, a Martian satellite, a NASA probe orbiting the Sun roughly 20 million miles from Earth for example) store messages until the next hop closer to the destination is available. Many of the brilliant protocols and services of the IETF now in service over the Internet are appropriate, with minor modifications. Today data transmission between Earth and Mars can take between 3.5 and 20 minutes depending on the relative rotation of the two planets. In future, however this could be consistently closer to the 3.5 minutes than to the 20 minutes as the number of intermediate nodes that push the data closer to its destination appropriately grow.

The article concludes with the expectation that one day, scientists can simple send messages to a Mars rover with the address [email protected]. Of course, without more safeguards (I would expect some sort of authenticated sender process) that the traffic to the rover is actually relevant and necessary, I’m afraid that the rover’s inbox (not to mention the skinny transmission links) will quickly be filled with all manner of invitations for male enhancement cures, earthly credit relief, naughty earth girls and get rich quick schemes!

Otherwise, it won’t be very long at all when the first inter-planetary spam occurs.

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