15:58 GMT30 May 2020
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    For the first time, an astronaut in space has controlled the movement of an object on earth, in a successful test of technology that could lead to the remote-controlled use of exploratory vehicles on other planets.

    On June 3, NASA astronaut Terry Virts moved a joystick on the International Space Station, which transmitted its movements to another joystick on the ground, which was in the hands of teleroboticist Andre Schiele in the Netherlands, 5,000 kilometers away. 

    Schiele's joystick successfully reproduced Virts' movements, and sent Schiele's response movements back to space in only 0.8 seconds both ways. 

    Signals between astronaut Terry Virts and Earth weren't even transmitted directly from the ISS to the ground, but had to pass through a satellite over 30,000 km away over the earth, down to mission control in Houston and across to the European Space Agency's ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.
    Signals between astronaut Terry Virts and Earth weren't even transmitted directly from the ISS to the ground, but had to pass through a satellite over 30,000 km away over the earth, down to mission control in Houston and across to the European Space Agency's ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.

    "The system worked even though the Space Station was flying over 5000 km away," said Schiele. "It felt as though Terry was extending his arm down from space to shake my hand."

    In theory, this is an essential step towards systems that allow astronauts to control vehicles on the surface of a planet. Whereas commands sent from Earth to, for example, the surface of Mars, take 12 minutes to make the trip, an astronaut controlling a vehicle from orbit would have much greater, more precise control. 

    The next step is to do tests whereby the robots manipulate foam objects in a blind test to see if remote operators can determine the stiffness of an object, or "feel" it remotely, an important step in more advanced robotic operations. 

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    Tags:
    communications, ISS, handshake, space exploration, remote control, Mars, Space, astronaut, European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, Earth, International Space Station, Netherlands
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