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Space shuttle Atlantis carries some curious cargo: two iPhones

Space, the final frontier. These are smart phones of the space shuttle Atlantis. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new apps and to boldly go where no iPhone has gone before.

By Chloe Stepney / July 8, 2011

The space shuttle Atlantis STS-135 lifts off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL. The 12-day mission to the International Space Station is the last mission in the Space Shuttle program.

Pierre Ducharme/Reuters

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When Atlantis blasted off Friday, it carried two new voyagers into space: a pair of Apple iPhone 4s.

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The iPhone already connects people worldwide via e-mail, Words With Friends, and Twitter. But the new SpaceLab app for iOS extends the iPhone's reach into a brand new world, or rather out of this world.

The app, developed by Odyssey Space Research, is en route to the International Space Station aboard the Atlantis. These first space-bound iPhones are destined for the ISS as part of Mission STS-135, the last flight of NASA’s 30-year-long Space Shuttle program.

“The revolutionary iPhone 4 offers an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate serious functions previously reserved for more expensive, purpose-built devices,” says Odyssey CEO Brian Rishikof in a press release. “The potential for using iPhone 4 to both conduct and support in-space research and operations is enormous.”

A team of two from Odyssey, a spacecraft engineering, analysis, and research company based in Houston, designed the app specifically for the iPhone 4’s cutting-edge capabilities including the three-axis gyro, accelerometer, Retina display, cameras, and A4 processor.

This technology will be used to conduct four experiments:

  1. Limb tracker experiment will measure the distance and exact location of the iPhone in relation to the Earth’s center.
  2. Sensor cal, which calibrates the three-axis gyro and accelerometer to make subsequent measurements more accurate.
  3. State acquisition, which calculates the longitude and latitude of the spacecraft multiple times to predict the spacecraft’s path of orbit.
  4. Lifecycle Flight Instrumentation will monitor and categorize how radiation affects the iPhone.
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