With Friday's lift-off of the Atlantis being the final shuttle launch for NASA, science is expected to turn to the private sector to get into space. But for some computing needs, NASA has turned to the private sector already, using smartphones to run some experiments.
The Samsung Nexus S Android phone was sent along to help out with some on-going research. The smartphones will be added to the SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites), which the astronauts aboard the ISS use daily to perform a wide number of tasks.
By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent, said lead engineer of NASA's Intelligent Robotics Group, DW Wheeler.
With a smartphone, the SPHERES will have a built-in camera to take pictures and video, sensors to help conduct inspections, a powerful computing unit to make calculations, and a Wi-Fi connection that we will use to transfer data in real-time to the space station and mission control.
The experiment will use the smartphone-enhanced SPHERES as remotely operated robots to conduct interior survey and inspections of the station, to capture mobile camera images and video, and to study how robots can support future human exploration.
This will free up astronauts to work on other things, letting the phone calculate inventories, and other mundane tasks.
SPHERES is a bi-product of MIT undergraduate students and NASA.
The flight marks the final time the shuttle will be used.
It is scheduled to spend about a week at the station, transferring food, clothing, science experiments and other gear to the station and packing up old equipment to be returned to Earth
NASA originally planned for Atlantis to land on July 20, but could add an extra day.