NASA Streams Video of a Cat Chasing a Laser From Deep Space

NASA // JPL-Caltech

NASA recently achieved a major feat by successfully transmitting a video to Earth from almost 19 million miles in space. This was a historic milestone for the agency as it showed the possibilities for humans to send visual messages from locations beyond Earth’s orbit.

An orange tabby cat by the name of Taters, who was the star of this cosmic show, was filmed on Earth, and the video was onto the Psyche spacecraft before NASA launched it in October. The spacecraft went on a mission to explore the metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche in the asteroid belt. When it was far enough to be considered in deep space, it used a near-infrared laser to send the cat video back to Earth. And it actually worked! Here are the details.

NASA Tested Deep Space Communication

Ryan Rogalin, the receiver electronics lead for the project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shared a 15-second video of Taters chasing a laser. It took the signal less than two minutes to reach Earth, and the video quality was in ultra-high definition.

X (Twitter) // @NASA

This is a speed that surpasses the typical broadband internet connections. The project extended existing satellite technology to deep space, proving that the technology can transmit data over vast distances. Time to message the aliens?

A Cat Video Sent From an Asteroid Belt?

NASA’s decision to use a cat video was not arbitrary. Designers debated the choice, aiming for a meaningful and fun transmission. The clip of Taters was a placeholder at first but became a fitting choice as it paid homage to Felix the Cat and showcased the laser technology that was used for it. The video also included overlaid graphics showing Psyche’s orbital path, laser technical details, and Taters’s color, pattern, and heart rate.

YouTube // @JPLraw

The cat’s space debut was the first in a series of experiments that will be done with the Psyche spacecraft. Video transmissions will be done weekly as the spacecraft moves away from Earth until it gets to a distance similar to Mars in mid-2024. The goal is to demonstrate the reliability and robustness of the technology, turning it into a practical and consistent tool.

The technology involves infrared lasers that transmit much more information than the radio waves that are still commonly used by NASA.

And while Taters may not star in any future experiments, he already played a crucial role in adding a touch of delight to this significant achievement. NASA visual strategist Joby Harris, who is Taters’ owner, pointed out that using simple and relatable elements like cats was crucial in making complex topics more engaging for the general public.