ESA's astronaut Alexander Gerst recently drove a car-sized rover from space that could connect astronauts with the vehicles on alien worlds in future.
He steered ESA's Eurobot rover through a series of intricate manoeuvres on the ground, demonstrating a new space network.
During an intense 90-minute live link on 7 August, Gerst used a dedicated controller laptop on the International Space Station to operate Eurobot, relying on video and data feedback to feed commands from 400 km up, orbiting at 28 000 km/h.
The link was provided by a new network that stores commands when signals are interrupted if direct line of sight with Earth or the surface unit was lost, forwarding them once contact was re-established.
In the future, controlling robots on Mars or the Moon would require a sort of 'space Internet' to send telecommands and receive data. Such networks must also accommodate signal delays across vast distances, considering that astronauts and rovers on Mars would have to be linked with mission controllers on Earth.
The demonstration was second in a series of experiments under the Meteron project, following the 2012 test by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who used an initial version of the network by steering a model rover at ESA's ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Daniela Taubert, Meteron's operations coordinator, said that the results were even better than the simulations they conducted and the whole experiment ran extremely smoothly, as Gerst was faster and more efficient that they had expected.