A Softball-Sized Space Palhttp://space.com/images/h_psa2.jpg [not image] http://space.com/images/h_psa.jpg [not image]
By Daniel Sorid
posted: 07:04 PM EST
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PSA Skelton. Click to Enlarge.
PSA Model. Click to Enlarge.
VIDEO — The PSA
A red globe floats out to your work area on the International Space Station.
"Go check out the leak in the service module," you tell it. "And give a holler when it's lunchtime. I'm getting hungry."
Out from the ball comes a reply. "No problem," it says. And it's off, floating away in the microgravity, back in time to ring the lunch bell.
The astronauts wanted a Tricorder, the handheld sensor used by Starfleet officers in Star Trek.
NASA is giving them something better. It's called the Personal Satellite Assistant, a softball-sized space pal that could begin service in three years.
Equipped with cameras, sensors, speakers, microphones, a display panel, and a fan for propulsion, PSAs could serve as trusty companions for the astronauts aboard the space station and the Shuttle.
The all-in-one ball could identify gas leaks, warn astronauts about dangerous temperature changes, and check up on a payload.
It could also sit by a astronaut, offering advice on an intricate systems upgrade, or relaying messages from ground controllers.
In theory, it could even float up to an astronaut's night quarters and tell a bedtime story.
The systems on the PSA just passed an initial test, and will continue development at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, according to Yuri Gawdiak, the project's principal investigator.
Gawdiak said science fiction helped spark the idea of the floating ball.
"One of the things that inspired us was the 'remote' on Star Wars," he said, referring to the little sphere used by Obi-Wan Kenobi as target practice for his light saber.
The main advantage of the PSA is its portability, says Gawdiak. Similar sensors are already installed on the Shuttle, but only operate in a fixed position. The PSA can float to trouble spots immediately — even working in teams — zeroing in on the precise location of a dangerous accumulation of gases or heat.
NASA scientists are targeting the first PSAs to be used on the Space Shuttle in two years, and on the ISS in three years.
It will be taught to speak and understand English at first, says Gawdiak, but could later be taught to take commands from Russian cosmonauts in their native tongue.