column nick greenizan

COLUMN: Shoot for the moon, and bring your phone

If we ever colonize the moon, the folks at SFU want us to have great cell service

Though it’s been the premise of many a science-fiction novel and campy 1970s television series, I have some bad news, folks.

We, the people of Earth, may never actually colonize the moon.

But if we ever do, boy are we gonna have some great cell service when we get there.

Earlier this month, Simon Fraser University issued a news release announcing that a team of researchers at the school “are hard at work to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the moon a reality by 2022.”

To which I say: It’s about damn time.

The lack of quality Wi-Fi, after all, is all that’s kept me from booking that Airbnb on the edge of the Tycho crater.

I know we can’t go anywhere right now due to COVID-19 – and talking about any type of travel at a time like this is cruel irony – but when those travel restrictions are lifted and we are unshackled once again, I think I’m going to book something.

I wasn’t interested before – roaming charges are expensive, after all – but now? Beam me up.

Kidding aside, these researchers have their reasons for wanting to perfect such advanced technology – spoiler alert: it’s not so we can travel there (yet) or so astronauts can play Candy Crush at the International Space Station.

Boiled down, it’s actually pretty simple – they want “better communications infrastructure” for space travel, especially considering the Artemis Project, a U.S.-funded endeavour, aims to return humans to the moon by 2024.

Improved communication technology is never a bad thing of course, although I wonder how good it truly needs to be, considering mission-control has always been able to communicate with those we send into orbit – Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong weren’t launched into the solar system with a tin can and a really long string, after all.

But here we are, 50 years after “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” and we’re still trying to get the static out of the line.

And really, who I am – a guy who passed Physics 11 with a 52 per cent grade and probably couldn’t name the planets in the correct order from the sun – to argue?

But colour me a little surprised at these developments, because it was little more than a year ago that some countries began floating the idea of defunding space exploration, instead leaving such endeavours to private enterprise – to people like Elon Musk who, let’s face it, might already have a plan for Wi-Fi service in galaxies far, far away.

I say this all in jest, of course. These are smart people, doing important work.

It’s also worth pointing out that SFU isn’t above having a little fun with all this, either.

The first line of the news release tells us that much.

“Think getting good cellular service on Earth is hard? Try doing it on the moon or Mars,” it reads.

If you continue reading, there’s a quote – buried near the end, after the parts about “testing interoperability standards” and “5G-forward LTE solutions” – that suggests, perhaps, the true motive behind this space odyssey.

“These technologies will work in space the same exact same way you and I use them on Earth now,” says Stephen Braham, one of the project leads.

Hmm. Maybe these astronauts really do just want float around up there playing Angry Birds till 3 a.m., after all.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter for the Peace Arch News.

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