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Astronaut in Space Takes Car-Sized Rover for a Joyride on Earth

A European astronaut drove a rover from the International Space Station, testing a system that could one day help us drive robots on Mars.

An astronaut maneuvered a car-sized rover around a test course in Amsterdam last week — all while sitting aboard the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth. It was not exactly an easy drive. European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst guided the Eurobot rover with commands from a laptop, relying on video and data sent from the rover as the ISS hurtled in orbit around Earth at 17,000 miles per hour.

Gerst was testing what could eventually become the "space Internet," a network that could be used to control robots on Mars and the moon. A signal already takes anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes to travel from Earth to Mars. While that can't be changed, thanks to the fact that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, further delays can happen when signals are interrupted. This "space Internet" would essentially store signals in case the line of sight with the rover was broken and forward them when contact was re-established, meaning rover drivers on Earth won't be left stranded on the road.

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- Keith Wagstaff