On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2013, NASA's Deep Space Network, the world's largest and most powerful communications system for spacecraft, turns 50.


Deep Space Network is basically required to do the kind of things that we do in space.

Clearly if you can't talk to your spacecraft and they can't talk to you then there's no point in even sending them out there.

DSN makes everything that we do possible. Imagine landing night for example for Curiosity. Without the Deep Space Network, there'd be no one in there because there would be nothing to see. We would hear nothing from the spacecraft. No touchdown confirmed, no cheering, no nothing.

The Deep Space Network is what helps us figure out where the spacecraft is. We wouldn't even get close to Mars without it.

The Deep Space network comprises of three complexes around the world placed about 120 degrees apart . This insures that we are constantly in touch with the spacecraft as the Earth rotates.

We're today tracking 33 space crafts not only the U.S. space crafts, also the space crafts from other countries.

And remember, this is not only talking to the spacecraft. We have been able to do radar and radio astronomy. And it was the radar on this antenna that actually was used for the men landing on the moon.

50 years ago, director of JPL, Dr. Pickering, and NASA, had established the Deep Space Network to provide communications for all the deep space missions. Rather than having each of the missions build their own ground network.

We used to use big analog recorders for telemetry signals. We used a 2-inch wide tape. In the beginning the first computers we put in we had 64,000 words maximum. And we had to be able to support every mission, NASA missions, other foreign missions, and digital technology and computers allowed that to happen.

If you look at the Cassini mission, we've got a transmitter about an average of 800-900 million miles away. The transmitter is about the power of your refrigerator light bulb and that is what is bringing all these incredible images and data back.

I think it's a resource to be treasured but it's a resource that also needs to be nourished.

We're looking at missions with higher data rate, more complicated missions with more instruments on the missions. We are looking at optical comm, and with optical comm, one day we should have streaming videos. You can see real time rather than a simulation.

We're seeing our success in almost real time and knowing right away, seeing those pictures, all possible because of the DSN.

If there was no DSN, there would be no missions. We always remind the missions, don't leave the Earth without us.
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