In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream, Alexa!

Amazon is close to achieving its goal of world domination. Much like Alexander the Great, Mr. Bezos is surely weeping because he has no more worlds to conquer. But cheer up, good sir. Amazon's most talkative progeny will soon go to the final frontier, where only a few men have gone before.

In particular, Alexa is blasting off to the moon, traveling aboard NASA's Artemis 1 mission, hopefully launching sometime later this year. The system will be in an Orion spacecraft; Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor. The Artemis 1 mission will be uncrewed, and during its 25.5-day mission it will orbit the moon for 6 days.

Alexa will be integral to a larger communications system named Callisto. Trivia champions such as yourself will recall that Callisto is Jupiter's second largest moon and the third largest moon in our solar system. You will also recall that in Greek mythology, Callisto was a nymph who experienced various misadventures with Zeus, Artemus, and Hera. But I digress.

Callisto (the NASA one) is a technology demonstration using Amazon's voice assistant nymph, as well as Cosco's Webex video conferencing platform. Callisto will be tablet based; from descriptions, apparently using an Apple iPad. This outer space Alexa will be dramatically different from the Alexa on your nightstand. The intelligence in your Alexa is gleaned through the internet. Outer space Alexa will attempt to function without the internet and instead rely on Amazon's Local Voice Control, designed for operation when connectivity is limited.

Cutting the cord to the earth's internet cloud is an important part of the experiment. During its travels, Orion will by flying somewhat further away from earth than any other human-rated spacecraft. Accessing the earth-bound internet would mean a 10-second round-trip delay (that will extend to a whopping 40 minutes when we get to Mars) so spacecraft-local artificial intelligence will be critical. Thus Alexa will communicate directly with Orion's on-board cloud. When necessary, Alexa can access NASA's Deep Space Network to talk to the earth.

Earthly flight controllers will interact with Callisto, checking out vital flight status and telemetry functions such as spacecraft orientation, and water supply and battery voltage levels. Alexa will also be able to control functions such as temperature changes and light colors. On future crewed missions, crew members will use Callisto to interface with the spacecraft's operation, as well as more mundane activities such as music and video playback.

One of NASA's important missions is education and outreach. In that spirit, the general public will have some access to Callisto, too. Saying “Alexa, take me to the moon” to your nightstand Alexa will let you access mission updates and other information.

If all goes well, the Callisto demonstration will be the first step in developing systems that will assist astronauts on future deep-space missions. If you are getting a 2001 HAL vibe here, you're not wrong.

Alexa, open the pod bay doors, please.