Gizmodo reports: [edited]
The Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science project, or OPALS, mounted a 2.5 watt, 1,550-nanometer laser transmitter to the International Space Station. The device was tasked with transmitting data at 50 megabits per second to a NASA receiving station near Los Angeles.
With the ISS hurtling around our planet at over 17,000 MPH, a steady aim is hugely important: NASA likens the task to 'aiming a laser pointer at the end of a human hair 30 feet away and keeping it there while walking'.
But the transmission was a success: the laser rig beamed down a video file in 3.5 seconds, a feat that would have taken more than 10 minutes using traditional radio frequencies currently used for data transmission to outer space.
NASA says the boost in data transmission capabilities is like going from dial-up to DSL. This is hugely important for NASA, whose space missions are generating ever-growing amounts of data. And fast, reliable data downloads are crucial in NASA's plans to send a mission to Mars.