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NASA's Plan for a Moon-Based Wifi System Will Help Cleveland Bridge Its Digital Divide

NASA moon base.jpg
An artist's rendition of the planned Artemis moon base. NASA Glenn engineers designed a wifi network for Artemis that served as the inspiration for bringing broadband to the streets of Cleveland.

A plan is underway to bring reliable Internet access to underserved communities across Cleveland.

Its inspiration comes from beyond Earth.

The Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition earlier this year asked NASA to help provide design specs for widespread web-access using wifi.

On average across Greater Cleveland 1 in 5 residents don’t have Internet access, according to Baiju Shah, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

He says in certain communities that number is much higher, "given poverty and the lack of affordable options for many of our residents.”

Shah says in some neighborhoods half of residents don’t have reliable web access.

That’s why in March Shah turned to NASA Glenn’s Compass design lab to help come up with a solution.

Steve Oleson is head engineer.

He says his lab drew inspiration to bridge the digital divide in Cleveland from plans for a moon-based wifi network.

Oleson says while there are significant differences between the moon and the streets of Cleveland, his team was able to integrate the design challenges of both.

Steve Oleson NASA Glenn
Jeff St.Clair
Steve Oleson is head of NASA Glenn's Compass design lab. The group provides rapid problem solving and engineering design for industry and the public sector.

“For the moon we were looking at certain data rates and certain number of uses," Oleson says.

"For the households we were looking at basic Internet, so you can do school work, you can do basic video, but you can’t do gaming, or streaming."

Oleson says Cleveland will need to install 20,000 small routers on utility poles, spaced 100 yards apart to provide a blanket wifi network.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership says the city has allocated $20 million toward the project and is evaluating proposals from nine internet providers based on the NASA recommendations.

Jeff is your average chemist turned radio host and reporter. He currently hosts middays on WKSU and has reported extensively on science, politics, business, and the environment.