Talking to Mars

Lately I’ve been bingeing on WaitButWhy. From Artificial Intelligence to the history of everything, Tim Urban is an expert at carefully researching complex topics then crafting entertaining, easy-to-read, and informative posts on them.

The other day I read the article How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars. It was a great article about space, Mars, and Elon Musk, but what stuck with me was this little tidbit buried in Part 3 of the post:

Earth people and Mars people will be in close touch, emailing and texting and watching each other’s movies and TV shows (no phone calls or Skype convos though—because data transfer is limited by the speed of light, a message sent from one planet takes between three and 22 minutes to get to the other, depending on the planets’ locations)

As well as this footnote:

For 2–4 weeks of each 26-month planet location cycle, the sun is directly between the two planets, and they can’t communicate at all.

In other words, if Earthlings want to talk with those brave few people who head to Mars starting as early as 2024, there’s going to be some interesting challenges.

So how are we going to talk to Mars?

We won’t be able to FaceTime, but we will be able to do video messaging. Kind of like SnapChat but slower. Let’s call it SlowChat. It should be good at making it clear just how slow each message will be, because there’s a big difference between a 6-minute round-trip, a 44-minute round-trip, and a 2-4 week delay!

Inspired by Tim Urban, I’ll illustrate this with a bit of a story.

It’s the year 2030. I’m floating around in 38% gravity and I want to chat with my mom.

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Okay, maybe Mars won’t be terraformed enough to have beaches and retirees by 2030, but we’ll definitely need to figure out ways to improve communication if we’re sending people up there!

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts or post a comment below!

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