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Why NASA trusts a ’60s communication network for its $2.7 billion Mars mission

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, program manager on the DSN for , a commercial space company working with NASA on the Perseverance mission and a subcontractor on the DSN, compares the communication to Mars to a phone call, and the network itself to a cellphone provider like AT&T, albeit significantly more complex.

NASA needs to make sure that the Perseverance rover has full bars on Mars. In order for the car-sized robot to be able to phone home, the space agency is relying on a trusty communication network built in 1958.

This Monday marks a milestone: The 10-day countdown leading toward the launch window for NASA’s Perseverance rover has officially begun.

But before Perseverance is actually sent to the Red Planet, NASA needs to ensure that it can keep in contact with the rover as it roams across the Martian terrain. That will be made possible via a global network of antennas known as the Deep Space Network (DSN).

The goal of the Perseverance mission is to look for clues of ancient life on Mars. These will help scientists understand the history of the planet, which is hypothesized to have once been a wet, habitable world. The rover will also collect Martian samples, stowing them away for a future return to Earth.

, program manager on the DSN for , a commercial space company working with NASA on the Perseverance mission and a subcontractor on the DSN, compares the communication to Mars to a phone call, and the network itself to a cellphone provider like AT&T, albeit significantly more complex.

“It really hasn’t fundamentally changed over the years,” Giroux tells Inverse. “What has changed is the amount of information that can be sent back and forth.”

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