If and when humans return to the moon, the European Space Agency (ESA) wants to make sure they can communicate with the same ease as they can on Earth. Just as rocket technology has improved since man’s last voyage to the moon in 1972, so has communication. That’s why the ESA is building a tablet app to help astronauts on the move on the moon.
It’s called the Electronic Field Book and the final version will include real-time positioning, data sharing, voice chat, records of every step taken, site maps, a glossary and even a library of minerals.
“The beauty of it is that you can have the whole picture of the operations on the field at any time. The science room can take over the cameras and instruments of the astronauts, share voice notes and texts,” says Riccardo Pozzobon, a geologist working on the Field Book in a press statement. “This is a real-time mission log as well as a scientific documentation system. It provides situational awareness to all astronauts in the field, to the scientists and to mission control.”
Communication is integral to any part of space travel—arguably the most famous moment in the history of space travel was when Neil Armstrong informed Mission Control of one small step for man. But as travel on other worlds gets more ambitious, the means of communication must keep up.
“Astronauts rely on experts on the ground to help them but it is not always possible: we need tools to support us. Electronic field books are a big part of the future of human space exploration,” says ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, speaking during an ESA event known as Φ-Week [Phi Week, in Greek].
Earlier this year the ESA tested upgraded versions of the Field Book in Lanzarote, Spain, known for its subterranean lava tubes. Going as far as 328 feet [100 meters] away from each other, the Field Books performed admirably. “We designed it to cope with poor or non-existing connections in remote locations,” says computer engineer Leonardo Turchi, who has worked on the Field Book for over a year.
The Field Book’s goals—easy access to a wealth of human knowledge and communication in pursuit of exploration—is reminiscent of science fiction like Star Trek. While the TV franchise’s PADD technology was an initial inspiration for the iPad, the Electronic Field Book could come closer to capturing the spirit of the fictional device.