WASHINGTON, January 18 (RIA Novosti) Mona Lisa and her famous smile have made it all the way to the moon.
An image of the iconic masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci was digitally beamed from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) which is circling the moon, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced this week.
“This is the first ever lunar laser communication demonstration,” said NASA scientist Xiaoli Sun in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“We chose a rather familiar image with lots of details – so you can tell if there are errors in the transmission,” he added.
The experiment was conducted in March 2012, but was only announced this week, Sun said, in order to complete a series of tests and allow time for a peer-review process.
“We’ve had other laser communication from earth to a near-earth satellite, but this is extended far beyond that,” he said.
NASA scientists already use laser signals to track the LRO’s position from 240,000 miles (386,242 km) away.
This time around, they divided the smiling image into 152 pixels and converted each one into a shade of gray that was then transmitted by piggybacking on the laser pulses that were already being sent.
On the other end, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) Instrument reconstructed the image, all the while continuing its primary mission: mapping the moon’s elevation and terrain.
All told, the famous image was transmitted at a data rate of about 300 bits per second.
Then it was beamed back to Earth.
At first, scientists found errors from the Earth’s atmosphere made the photo looked spotted and grainy, so they cleaned it up using the same techniques often used to clean signals on CDs and DVDs, and the final result looks remarkably close to the original, according to NASA.
Researchers said the new technology could eventually serve as a backup for radio communications to space and may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide.
“This experiment showed us we can also send simple commands,” said Sun.
“You can turn on a light, turn on an instrument, simple things like that. We haven’t done it yet but this demonstration shows it can be done.”