What’s that? Androids in space? There’s something really fitting about this whole thing as the word “android” has always had a sci-fi connection to space. Famous space-faring androids include Data from Star Trek, Roy Batty from Blade Runner, and Max 404 from Android. Today Google and Samsung are bringing that fantasy a bit closer to reality by sending their own Androids into space on board NASA’s final space shuttle launch. This isn’t the first time the Nexus S has tried to become space-worthy as it made it to “near space” in Google’s own tests back in December. However, the presence of it on board the Atlantis space shuttle now makes it official that the Nexus S is the first NASA approved commercial smartphone cleared to fly on a NASA shuttle and to be cleared for use on the International Space Station.
The Nexus S devices will be equipped onto a trio of free-flying satellites called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES). The bowling-ball sized devices were developed by MIT undergrads in 1999 and three final products have been zipping around the ISS cabin since 2006, performing autonomous docking procedures and other maneuverability duties. The results of the SPHERES work will allow for NASA to better understand and improve “satellite servicing, vehicle assembly and formation flying spacecraft configurations.” Since the capabilities of technology today were inconceivable back in 1999, the SPHERES were built with an “expansion port” to allow for future technologies to be easily integrated into their systems. DW Wheeler, lead engineer in the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center, explains how the integration of the Nexus S smartphone will benefit the SPHERES and their research:
By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent. 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.
Wheeler later let out a ghastly laugh and said, “these are the droids we were looking for.” (Editor’s note: No she did not, Callas, no she did not.)