If you were wondering what Nokia had been up to since the everlasting brick phone, and thought it had dropped off the face of the earth, turns out, it has, in a big way. Nokia is leaps and bounds ahead of the game, yet again—this time, without snakes. It’s off to the moon with more of an ‘ET, call home’ situation in mind. What are NASA and Nokia planning to do out there?
NASA’s plan to make life off Earth comfortable for humans has been in the works for a long time, and it estimates it may no longer be just a dream by as soon as 2030. The Finnish telecom equipment manufacturer Nokia has officially declared that it was selected by NASA to deploy an “ultra-compact, low-power, space-hardened” wireless 4G network on our moon’s surface, with $14.4 million to play with as a part of the space agency’s Artemis programme, which aims to send the first woman, and the next man, to the moon by 2024.
The spectacular investment is part of NASA’s Tipping Point scheme, which will be funding the lunar tech developments for Artemis. Nokia owns the American research company Bell Labs (a company founded by Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer Alexander Graham Bell who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone), which will be attempting to build the 4G-LTE network. The mission will ultimately pave the way in testing whether it’s possible to have “human habitation on the moon,” Bell Labs said in a recent tweet.
Spaceflight engineering company Intuitive Machines will also be working on the project with a promise that the initial 4G will, of course, be upgraded to 5G but first, the network must be adapted to the moon’s very unique climate. The network’s equipment will be installed remotely using a lunar hopper that is expected to be finished by late 2022.
Extreme temperatures, radiation and the vibrations of rocket landings and launches will all be considered factors. To combat these potential threats to the project succeeding, the 4G network will use significantly smaller cells than those on Earth, which will reach a smaller range but require less power and are easier to transport.
The firm said in a statement that “The network will self-configure upon deployment,” and added that the wireless technology will allow for “vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video.”
The Tipping Point scheme sets out to fund lunar technology development for NASA’s Artemis programme, which ultimately has a goal of establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2030. More than $370 million has been given by NASA to 14 small and large US companies across nine states to compliment the achievement of this goal.
NASA also invested around $256 million in cryogenic fluid management technology, which keeps liquefied gases at very low temperatures and are essential for supporting life off Earth. The majority of the funding for the Tipping Point solicitation involving companies of varying specialities is directed towards this particular technology, illustrating the importance NASA as well as other space agencies are placing on the ability to produce fuel from ice harvested around the moon’s polar regions.
The ability to break down water molecules in order to create liquid oxygen (LOX) and hydrogen fuel, then store them at cryogenic temperatures for extended periods of time, and transfer them from one tank to another, seems to be the most crucial part of how humans will transfer themselves for long periods of time, and possibly life, to the moon. From there, Mars will be next in line.
March marked Women’s History Month, and so it made perfect sense that NASA planned on executing the first all-female spacewalk in history right before the month was over (in case you aren’t familiar with the term, spacewalk is when astronauts go outside the spacecraft and enter into floating space). But just as the world was gearing up to witness astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch undertake this historical spacewalk outside the International Space Station, NASA had to abort the mission, and the all-female spacewalk never took place.
As absurd as it sounds, the reason behind this last-minute change of plan was the absence of two female spacesuits in the right size for both Koch and McClain, and in light of this shortage, Christina Koch did the spacewalk alongside fellow male astronaut Nick Hague, while Anne McClain had no choice but to assist them from inside the station.
The two astronauts were set to install lithium-ion batteries for the space station’s solar arrays, and in order to do so, they realised they both needed a medium-sized Hard Upper Torso (HUT), which is the upper part of a spacesuit. Unfortunately though, there was only one available for use. The understandable and expected public backlash didn’t take long to reach NASA’s PR office, and on Tuesday March 26, the agency tweeted, “We’ve seen your tweets about spacesuit availability for Friday’s spacewalk. To clarify, we have more than 1 medium size spacesuit torso aboard, but to stay on schedule with @Space_Station upgrades, it’s safer & faster to change spacewalker assignments than reconfigure spacesuits.”
According to NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz, spacewalks are the most physically challenging performances astronauts have to undergo—it goes without saying that it is necessary for the spacesuits to fit perfectly. As NASA stated, it’s clear that the crew made the safest and most convenient decision for the operation, but this event brought to the surface an ongoing issue regarding NASA’s gender imbalance. The truth is that the space agency is still using the same spacesuits that were designed and produced 40 years ago, when women astronauts were just starting to be accepted into the profession (Sally Ride became the first woman in space in 1983).
“Some groups initially assumed that women could fit in the same sizes as small men—or at worst, that some of the men’s sizes would have to be scaled down proportionately to fit women,” wrote NASA design engineer Elizabeth Benson in a 2009 paper. It’s hard not to react with astonishment to NASA’s oversight on the importance of an adequately fitting female spacesuit, and to feel a grave disappointment towards the lost opportunity of making such a memorable female-only spacewalk because of an ongoing failure to truly cater to all genders equally.
“It’s likely to be a woman, the first next person on the moon. It’s also true that the first person on Mars is likely to be a woman. So these are great days,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Let’s hope that Bridenstine’s prediction will indeed become a reality. But first, the agency certainly needs to produce suits that can fit more than just the men they were initially designed for.