A Google Android phone will accompany an iPhone 4 on the space shuttle’s final launch, as smartphones look to conquer the final frontier.
The shuttle Atlantis, set to launch today, will carry two Samsung Nexus S devices for several experiments. Technicians will upgrade the devices, essentially transforming them into robots to do mundane tasks for the crew members.
At the International Space Station, the devices are set to expand features on the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or “SPHERES.” The Nexus S devices will reportedly sit inside bowling ball-sized orbs propelled by small CO2 thrusters, allowing the phones to operate without the assistance of a crew member.
Normally, the SPHERES have preprogrammed commands from a computer aboard the space shuttle, but the Nexus devices will give them increased computing power, cameras and links to the ground crews who will pilot them.
“The goal is to find out how we can use telerobotics to increase the efficiency of human explorers and ground controller,” said D. W. Wheeler of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Google will join its biggest mobile rival, Apple, on the space trip as well. Apple’s iPhone 4 will join a crew running an app, called “SpaceLab for iOS.” The program, designed by Odyssey Space Research, will allow crew members to conduct several experiments with the phones’ cameras, gyroscopes and other sensors. Each device will include step-by-step directions for the astronauts, eliminating the need for printed instructions.
The crew will conduct four experiments in total, including a test to see if space radiation affects computer memory by watching for unintended changes to single bits in the iPhone’s RAM.
Smartphones caught fire on Earth, so it was only a matter of time before they went out of orbit. Devices became more sophisticated, with consumers phasing out traditional desktop and laptop computers in favor of devices that fit inside a pocket or handbag, or even in SPHERES.
It is fitting the top two handset platforms on Earth should accompany the crew to the International Space Station. Apple and Google control well over half the mobile market and lead the way with innovation, making touch screen devices with increasing computing power.
These first steps by Apple and Google into space could result in giant leaps for the smartphone industry in the future.