Space exploration is hard, not least because of how difficult it is to communicate. Astronauts need to talk to mission control, ideally by video communication, and space vehicles need to send back data they gather, preferably at high speed and with little delay as possible. At first, space missions designed and carried their own distinct communications systems; that worked well enough, but it wasn’t exactly a paragon of efficiency. Then one day in 1998, the internet pioneer Vinton Cerf imagined a network that could offer a richer capacity to serve the growing number of people and vehicles in space. The dream of an interplanetary internet was born.

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