NASA's first Artemis moon mission will have a virtual astronaut: Amazon's Alexa


NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, slated for take off as soon as this March, aims to send an Orion spacecraft around the moon. The cabin will be largely empty, save for an a interactive tablet that has been dubbed “Callisto,” which will sit propped up to face an astronaut mannequin. Callisto is essentially a touch-screen device that features reconfigured versions of Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, and Cisco’s teleconferencing platform WebEx.

Among the many aspects that will be closely watched on the ground — at least by the group behind this Alexa experiment — is how the virtual assistant performs in space. And if nothing else, it’ll be some well-placed advertising.

It’s all part of a collaboration between Amazon, (AMZN) Cisco (CSCO), and Lockheed Martin (LMT), which built the Orion capsule for NASA. Lockheed approached the other two companies with the idea of developing a virtual assistant about three years ago, the companies said, and they are paying the full cost of including the virtual assistant on the Artemis 1 mission. Lockheed is also reimbursing NASA for any help the agency has lent on this project through an arrangement called a Space Act Agreement, which allows the space agency to be compensated for expertise or resources it gives to companies working on certain space-related projects.

According to a Lockheed spokesperson, the estimated costs were about $2.1 million when the Space Act Agreement for this project was signed in 2018, though Lockheed ultimately ended up paying NASA nearly $3 million.

NASA was not involved in designing the system or selecting the partners that Lockheed brought together, the space agency told CNN Business.

“Lockheed is leading the effort and we’re happy to enable that in terms of providing a platform, just like we would do with other technology demonstrations that we think could hold future benefits,” NASA’s Orion Deputy Program Manager, Howard Hu, told CNN Business.

The system, named Callisto after a…


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