Smartphones in space: Nexus S and iPhone 4 give up gravity so NASA can cut costs

Expensive high-tech space gear beware: the iPhone 4 is not the only smartphone hurtling into space.

The Samsung-made Google Nexus S has hitched a ride on NASA's final space shuttle Atlantis, along with a pair of iPhone 4s, and will be tested to see if it can be used in place of expensive, purpose-made monitoring equipment.

"Nexus S from Google is part of research that will equip small, free-flying satellites called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) used by the astronauts to provide a broader range of capabilities and give better communication between land and sky," explained Samsung in a July 11 press release.

Lead engineer in the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., DW Wheeler, said, "By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent. With Nexus S, 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 two modified iPhone 4s will run a 99-cent iPhone app called SpaceLab which will capture "sequential photos of the Earth’s coastlines," said Wired, and will provide data about the spacecraft's orbital position and speed.

Atlantis took off on its final mission on July 8. It docked with the International Space Station on July 10.

The crew of Atlantis have lots of other fun experiments to look forward to on their 12-day long mission, including the testing of a urine recycling system that turns "astronauts' pee into a tasty sports drink."

Keep up to date with all their adventures here: