The iPad heads for space, together with an Angry Birds soft toy

nasa gives space station crew personal web access international

First there was news of pilots taking iPads into the cockpit. Then came flight attendants who started using them in the cabin. After that, garbage collectors got in on the act. Doctors in Hong Kong are now in the process of replacing their clipboards with Apple’s tablet. And the latest news is that the iPad, or a pair of them to be precise, is heading into space.

According to collectSPACE, two iPads will be placed on board an unmanned resupply rocket heading for the International Space Station (ISS) next week.

NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries told collectSPACE that the iPads will be used for entertainment purposes only. “The folks in the station program are taking a look at a number of different tablets and….comparing and contrasting them,” Humphries said, adding that the plan was to take other tablets to the ISS some time next year.

As far as consumer tech goes, the ISS currently has on board two laptops (maker unknown), a number of iPods (the first of which went up in 2005) and two iPhone 4s.

More bizarrely, an Angry Birds soft toy will also be heading skyward, except that, unlike in the game, it won’t be returning to Earth (just yet). The toy will be going up on a manned flight to the ISS next month.

Apparently, the two cosmonauts and one astronaut on board the flight will be using the Angry Birds toy as an indicator to show them when they’ve reached space – ie. when the bird begins to float, they’ve arrived. It appears that this rather low-tech system is a tradition rather than a cost-cutting measure at a time when finance for space programs is being squeezed.

Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov told reporters at a press conference in Russia that it’s normal to take such a thing into space. “According to the existing tradition, we take with us small charms,” Shkaplerov said. He added that toys are often used as a “zero-g indicator.”

“This indicator we start on Earth, hung on a string, just behind the door between the landing module and living compartment,” he explained. “At a time when [we] start weightlessness, about 10 minutes after launch, it will begin to float. So we understand that the start of our flight was a success and we are already in space.” 

According to Shkaplerov, it was his five-year-old daughter who chose the toy. “She asked me to fly it – and be sure of its return!” the cosmonaut told reporters.

[via engadget]