The Nexus S Powers NASA’s Lightsaber Sparring Spheres, In Space

Yes, that headline sounds a little ridiculous. But it’s not much of an exaggeration.

Today Google has posted a video showcasing how the Nexus S is being used by NASA to power its SPHERE satellites — the free-floating devices that NASA says were actually inspired by the lightsaber sparring droid seen in Star Wars. The satellites have been on the International Space Station since 2006, so they obviously predate Android, but they include a special expansion port that lets NASA add additional sensors and other capabilities.

Which is where the Nexus S comes in. After taking a ride up to the ISS on the last manned Shuttle launch, two Nexus S devices are being used by NASA to give these droids — err, robots — more powers. The SPHEREs are taking advantage of the Nexus’s CPU to power its ‘brains’, and the phone’s sensors allow it to monitor more external data. One of the neatest new features: NASA is planning to use the phone’s Wifi connection to control devices remotely from Earth.

In the video, NASA lays a lot of love on Android, which it says is “the first commercial smartphone certified by NASA to fly on the space shuttle and to be cleared for use on the space station”. Research engineer DW Wheeler says that NASA went with the Nexus S because “the phone is very easy to take apart. Android is easy to program, we’re familiar with it, and we needed to make a lot of customizations that are easier to make with Android”.

The fact that the Nexus S would be sent on the Space Shuttle to the ISS was announced back in July, but the new video includes some footage and background videos of it in action. This is actually Android’s second adventure into the great beyond — back in December, Google showed off footage of some Nexus S devices taking rides through the atmosphere on some large weather balloons.