Data Here, Data There, Data Even From Mars

Joe Balsarotti

I recently had the opportunity to have dinner with a real-live rocket scientist, Adam Steltzner, PhD, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Learning about the challenges, the technology involved and leaps of faith required to successfully land a rover on the planet Mars (as Steltzner has done) made for extremely interesting dinner conversation.

Compare the upload speed of the Mars Curiosity Rover – which can communicate directly with Earth at 0.032 megabits per second – with the average home or business connection of 200 megabits per second. But for about eight minutes a day, the Orbiter comes into view of the Rover and can relay signals about like an old DSL line can. Plus, considering that the time for the signal to get from there to here takes an average of 14 minutes, one wonders how in the universe we could retrieve those unbelievable images, atmospheric data and mineralogical analysis.

Something that stands out to me is that those connections are pure, useful data. Our home and business Internet connections, whether they are wired or wireless, are bogged down with endless (and in many cases, useless) data. The average PC is constantly sending out the connection to “ping” other computers to see if the printer is still connected, any email is coming in and if there is yet another update on the way for one of the dozens of programs loaded. Updates come down for antiviruses hour-by-hour, websites are constantly refreshed with new content and synchronization occurs between clocks, files and more; all of this occurs in the background before the user ever opens a window.

Add to all of that the endless garbage filling the data pipelines. By many accounts, more than 98 percent of all email never reaches a recipient. Why? Because it is outright spam or malware and it is rejected at the mail server level. It’s something we techs call “perimeter nuking,” not to mention the misaddressed email that sent to addresses no longer online. All this clutter makes us keep longing for faster and faster Internet speeds to do the basics, while 100 percent of the bandwidth from Curiosity is dedicated to transmitting actual data.

Although the next mission, Mars 2020, is the first step toward bringing Mars samples back to Earth so that maybe we get a version of the 1969 techno-thriller “The Andromeda Strain” that way, the Curiosity data lines don’t have to deal with viruses trying to hack into your home or business router.

Every time you or your staff download a program to your machine or add another online service or sync tool, your overall connection becomes more and more bogged down. Only the applications required to do the job should be allowed on company machines. In this publication on many an occasion, I’ve detailed the pitfalls of users loading unauthorized software, but beyond the security concerns and loss of control of your company’s data, your business also pays for those superfluous programs in slower network and Internet speeds.

My advice: Have both a written policy in your employee manual about loading unauthorized software, and systematically evaluate your company’s use of such programs to remove those which are no longer being used. They take up storage space and utilize bandwidth.

Steltzner’s latest task is as the project lead for the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. He was in charge of the landing team that invented the Sky Crane landing system, which successfully placed Curiosity on Mars. Learn about the landing at

Joe Balsarotti is President of Software To Go and is a 40-year veteran of the computer industry, reaching back to the days of the Apple II. Keep up with tech by following him at or on Twitter @softtogo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.