It turns out NASA’s uncrewed Artemis I mission to the Moon will have one crew member after all, and it’s not human.
Lockheed Martin, the company that designed and built the Orion spacecraft which will head NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon, announced Wednesday that a new artificial intelligence (AI) will fly onboard the uncrewed Artemis I mission, giving feedback to ground control and testing the use of voice, video and whiteboarding technologies for deep space communication.
The AI, named Callisto, integrates Amazon’s Alexa with Cisco’s Webex, a provider of cloud-based communication solutions like video meetings, calling and messaging. It is named after a favorite companion of the Greek goddess Artemis.
“The Star Trek computer was part of our original inspiration for Alexa, so it’s exciting and humbling to see our vision for ambient intelligence come to life onboard Orion,” said Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa. “We’re proud to be working with Lockheed Martin to push the limits of voice technology and AI, and we hope Alexa’s role in the mission helps inspire future scientists, astronauts and engineers who will define this next era of space exploration.”
The Artemis I Mission, scheduled to launch in early 2022, will complete a round trip to the Moon without touching down on the surface. Artemis II will do the same thing with a crew on board, and Artemis III, the most highly anticipated mission, will land humans on the Moon in 2025. Callisto is currently integrated with Orion only for Artemis I, though if it demonstrates the usefulness of the technologies it may return to future missions.
Callisto allows Alexa to work without an internet connection and Webex to run on a tablet using NASA’s Deep Space Network. It was developed in collaboration by engineers from Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco. Together, they have worked with NASa to build a virtual crew experience at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, allowing operators to interact with Callisto from the Mission Control Center.
“Through Callisto, Webex is enabling boundless video communications and collaboration in deep space while helping to provide the next generation with inclusive and immersive technology,” said Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco. “This first-of-its-kind solution could one day support future crewed missions, providing face-to-face interaction between crew, command center and loved ones.”
Callisto will provide ground operators with access to flight status and telemetry, as well as the ability to control connected devices onboard Orion. Video and audio of the interactions will be transmitted back to Earth for public viewing throughout the mission, and engineers will analyze the performance of the onboard systems.
Students, space enthusiasts and the general public can follow the mission on Alexa-enabled devices by saying “Alexa, take me to the Moon.” The Webex video collaboration capabilities will also offer opportunities for STEM education and remote classroom teaching events.
“Callisto will demonstrate a first-of-its-kind technology that could be used in the future to enable astronauts to be more self-reliant as they explore deep space,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space for Lockheed Martin. “Callisto is a shining example of how new partnerships with commercial technologies can be flown on Orion to benefit future human deep space missions.”