October 25, 2011
— Popular tablet computers and the red feathered star of a leading video game played on them are bound for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard two upcoming Russian space launches.
Two Apple iPads are packed on board the next unmanned resupply vehicle to fly to the space station, set for launch later this month. And a stuffed toy doll of the red bird from Rovio Mobile's "Angry Birds" puzzle game will accompany the next three crew members to depart Earth for the ISS next month.
The iPads will augment Apple iPod music players already used by the crew on the station, while the red Angry Bird toy will help by signaling to the launching cosmonauts and NASA astronaut that they have made it to space when it starts to float.
Entertainment only, for now
"The Russians are flying two iPads on the next Progress. They're going to be used for entertainment purposes only," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries told collectSPACE on Tuesday (Oct. 25).
Russia's Progress M-13M supply spacecraft seen here being readied for launch will fly two iPads to the ISS. (RSC Energia)
Scheduled to liftoff Oct. 30 at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Progress M-13M's (45P) launch will mark the return to flight for the unmanned resupply spacecraft, after the previous vehicle was lost during a launch failure in August.
Should it reach the ISS as expected, M-13M will deliver to the orbiting complex needed propellant, oxygen, water and thousands of pounds of crew equipment, including the two iPads.
The tablets will be the first of their type on the ISS, which is otherwise equipped with laptop computers Apple iPods and even an iPhone. NASA is however, assessing tablets for their possible future use in space.
"The [U.S. operating segment] folks in the station program are taking a look at a number of different tablets and kind of comparing and contrasting them. They are hoping to be able to fly one or more them next year, but as yet the evaluation is not complete," Humphries said.
There's no word whether the iPads will arrive at the station pre-loaded with Angry Birds, the video game, but the ISS crew will only need to wait a couple of more weeks to be able to stage their own zero-g version.
As revealed on Monday by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, a red Angry Bird doll will be aboard when he and two crew mates, Anatoli Ivanishin and Dan Burbank, lift off in the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft on Nov. 13 at 11:14 p.m. EST (0414 GMT Nov. 14).
"According to the existing tradition, we take with us small charms," Shkaplerov said at a pre-flight press conference in Russia. He explained the custom of flying a toy 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. 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," he said.
Soyuz TMA-22 commander Anton Shkaplerov (center) with crew members Dan Burbank (left) and Anatoli Ivanishin. (GCTC)
Continuing with custom, Shkaplerov allowed his 5-year-old daughter to choose the toy.
"This little red birdie [was an] interesting fun toy that my daughter liked. She asked me to fly it — and be sure of its return!" Shkaplerov said laughing.
Though these launches will mark the first time both iPads and Angry Birds have reached space, their flights will build upon growing relationships between the device and game makers and space agencies such as NASA.
This past July, Rovio released a special reduced-gravity level of the "Seasons" version of their game. The moon landing themed puzzle was timed to coincide with the last launch of the space shuttle, which Rovio representatives attended as guests of NASA.
For Apple, the iPads are only the latest of the company's products to launch to space. The iPod, which turned 10 years old this week, first flew to orbit in 2005. Since then, they have become the music player of choice for shuttle and now station crews.
Two iPhone 4's were delivered to the space station aboard the final shuttle mission in July as a part of a commercial experiment organized by Odyssey Space Research.
NASA has also released a number of Apple iOS apps for iPods, iPhones and iPads. The free apps offer access to mission information, NASA TV and educational games.