Smartphones… in… Space!

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The last space shuttle was a momentous event for many reasons, and especially for the evolution of the smartphone. On board Atlantis was a trio of Samsung Nexus S handsets, which were the first commercial smartphones to be cleared for use in the International Space Station.

The goal of the mission: to explore how robots can help humans experiment and live in space more efficiently. The phones were attached to three SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) and helped the robotic satellites perform mundane tasks, giving the astronauts more time to focus on science and the exploration of space. 

According to Google, which co-developed the smartphone with Samsung, a group of company engineers designed an open source sensor logging app to run diagnostics with the SPHERES. The app is also available from the Android Market. 

The Nexus S features a 4-inch Contour Display with Super AMOLED Touchscreen technology and sports a 5MP rear-facing camera and camcorder, in addition to a VGA front facing camera. The phone is also supported with NFC, allowing information to be read off everyday objects. The smartphones aboard the space shuttle ran on Android 2.3 but with NASA customizations. 

Google claims that in the future the phones will control and maneuver the SPHERES using the IOIO board and possibly the Android Open Accessory Development Kit. 




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