Student Features

Star Wars, Star Trek and NASA
05.13.04
Image of the Personal Satellite Assistant on a stick
What do Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk have in common? Would you believe they are both helping NASA? Scientists at NASA are creating a new robot. They got ideas for it from Star Wars and Star Trek! Part of the idea for the design of NASA's Personal Satellite Assistant (PSA) came from the movie Star Wars. Do you remember when Luke Skywalker learned to use the lightsaber? He practiced with a small floating sphere. The astronauts asked for a tool like a tricorder from Star Trek. Its sensors would give its users information about their surroundings. So, the scientists and engineers at NASA are designing a volleyball-sized robot that floats and has sensors to check the atmosphere -- the PSA!

Image to right: The Personal Satellite Assistant will help astronauts in space
Credit: NASA


The PSA is a robot that is being designed to work on the International Space Station (ISS) and other space vehicles. The goal is to give the astronauts a robot assistant. This robot will help them with their daily tasks. One task will be monitoring the environment on the space vehicle. The PSA will also survey areas that may be too dangerous for humans.

The design of the robot was inspired by the small floating sphere that Skywalker used in the first Star Wars movie. Some of the PSA's tools were inspired by the "tricorders" that the Starfleet crew used to study new planets on the TV show Star Trek.

Image of the Personal Satellite Assistant
Image to left: In the future, the PSA may perform tasks that humans are unable to do
Credit: NASA


The PSA will be self-propelled with eight small fans. It will float easily in free fall on the ISS. Like the fictional tricorder on Star Trek, the PSA will have sensors. Its mission is to keep the astronauts safe and to help them with their day-to-day tasks. On the ISS, the PSA will move about, monitoring the air composition and temperature with its sensors. The PSA will communicate with computers on the ISS and alert the astronauts and Mission Control on Earth if there is a problem.

A wireless network will connect the PSA to the computers of the ISS. It will allow the PSA to access information about hardware, crew schedules and science experiments. It will also monitor supplies on the ISS. The information can then be shown on a small LCD display on the PSA. When the astronauts repair something, the PSA can get the information from the main computer. Then it can give the astronauts step-by-step instructions.

The PSA will even speak the information. And, if crew members have a question, they can simply ask the PSA. They can speak into the microphones on their headsets. The PSA will have voice-recognition and artificial intelligence software. These will allow it to understand spoken questions and commands.

Also, the PSA will provide audio and video communication. Scientists on Earth could view experiments on the ISS. They will even be able to have conferences with the astronauts. The PSA will use its video camera to show the crew on Earth what is happening on the ISS.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk's tricorder was made centuries from now. But, the astronauts on ISS may get theirs much sooner than that. It's just another way that NASA is making science fiction a reality.

Adapted from Overview of the PSA