Two iPhones will re-define the term "smartphone" when they lift off into space in early July with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis for its final mission as it heads to the International Space Station (ISS).
The gadgets won't just be along for the ride. They'll be loaded with an app called SpaceLab for iOS (designed by Odyssey Space Research and sold for $0.99 in the iPhone app store) that will allow the astronauts to collect data.
Taking advantage of the iPhone's three-axis gyroscope, accelerometer and cameras, the SpaceLab app will enable the astronauts to conduct experiments ranging from detecting radiation levels to estimating position in space.
For instance, the astronauts can take a photo of the Earth's curvature (the limb), and use the app's Limb Tracker function to measure the arc of the curve and thereby determine the ISS's current altitude.
In another example, the app's State Acq (State Acquisition) function can figure out where the phone is located in space by taking photos of Earth, lining them up with NOAA coastline models and matching both with data from the iPhone's three-axis gyroscope and accelerometer.
Earth-bound folk can also use the app to conduct the same experiments (altered slightly to account for not actually being in zero gravity conditions). Just follow the instructions in this PC World article.
Purpose of iPhone space mission
The crew will use the iPhones to collect data that could someday find practical applications, such as "the recovery of navigation information for a spacecraft that might be 'lost in space,'" Odyssey Research said in a press release.
After the experiments, the iPhones will return to Earth, where the data will be collected, analyzed and then shared through the app. The smartphones may then return to space on the Russian Soyuz in the fall.
photo: screenshot of SpaceLab app