The Artemis 1 mission, which might launch as early as March 2022, will send an Orion spacecraft around the moon. The cabin will be mostly empty, with the exception of an interactive tablet dubbed “Callisto,” which will be propped up in front of an astronaut mannequin. Callisto is a touch-screen gadget with redesigned versions of Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, and Cisco’s WebEx teleconferencing platform.
How the virtual assistant will function in space is one of the many elements that will be meticulously monitored on the ground by the organization behind this Alexa project. It’s all part of a partnership between Amazon, Cisco, and Lockheed Martin, the company that constructed NASA’s Orion spacecraft. According to the companies, Lockheed approached the other two companies around three years ago with the concept of establishing a virtual assistant, and they are covering the complete cost of including the virtual assistant on the Artemis 1 mission.
Lockheed is also compensating NASA for any assistance it provides on this project through a Space Act Agreement, which authorizes NASA to be compensated for expertise or resources it provides to corporations working on specific space-related projects.
When the Space Act Agreement for this project was signed in 2018, the expected expenses were around $2.1 million, according to a Lockheed representative, though Lockheed ultimately paid NASA nearly $3 million.
According to CNN Business, NASA was not involved in the design of the system or the selection of the Lockheed partners. Howard Hu, NASA’s Orion deputy program manager, told CNN Business: “Lockheed is spearheading the effort, and we’re glad to facilitate that in terms of providing a platform.” He also shared that the space agency is “evaluating all kinds of technology” and “looking at various ways to enable the astronauts to operate the vehicle more efficiently.” He continued, “Certainly virtual assistants or assistants and AI will be part of that evaluation [for future missions] — whatever they may be, whether it’s Callisto or something else.”
The technology, named Callisto after a Greek mythological companion of the goddess Artemis, intends to make astronauts’ tasks easier one day. According to the corporations, they could use Alexa to change the cabin illumination while doing other things, or they could utilize WebEx to connect with loved ones back on Earth to make long, difficult journeys through space more joyful.
Aaron Rubenson, the vice president of Amazon’s Alexa program, said: “[We] envision a future in which astronauts could turn to an onboard artificial intelligence, for information and for assistance and ultimately for companionship,” But Callisto isn’t there yet.
In other news, check out Amazon’s own Alexa-powered TV.
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