iPhones in Space

Galaxy Discovery for $1

NASA is taking austerity seriously. The agency is sending up a duo of Apple iPhone 4s into space to conduct a series of experiments using a $1 app.

The crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and those in the International Space Station are trying to find out if the iPhone 4 and an app called “SpaceLab for iOS” are up to the rigors of space science. The iPhone’s built-in gyroscope is central to the app’s design and will be used to help measure altitude and the curvature of the earth. Astronauts will also test the iPhone’s ability to geolocate itself using images of familiar coastline produced by the iPhone’s built-in camera.

If the iPhone performs reliably and accurately, it could prove to be an inexpensive alternative to bulkier custom-made machinery. iPhone users might be wondering what in-space roaming and searching for a signal does to the phone’s battery life, but engineers have already anticipated concerns and equipped the devices with large external batteries to prevent any disruption while conducting experiments. The iPhones could launch into orbit as early as tomorrow.