Star Trek: the Next Generation featured the widespread use of small touchscreen devices known as PADDs. These were often depicted as being used in place of laptops or other portable computers. Even when aboard the Enterprise, characters were shown clicking or swiping at the little devices. The PADD was an evolution of an earlier prop that was used in the first iteration of Star Trek way back in the 1960’s. As is often the case, life has begun to imitate art.
Astronaut Leroy Chiao, who has flown into space four times and was the Commander of Expedition 10 on the International Space Station, wants to take PADDs into space for real. His plan is to create custom applications for Apple’s iPad. Dr. Chiao already uses an iPad when flying his private plane:
“I use the iPad as a navigation reference in the cockpit of my airplane. It has a beautiful display, and has great potential to become a multi-function flying tool. I use apps which show me a moving map (which is not certified for flight, so must be used as reference only), in conjunction with my flight-certified GPS. The two track exactly. I also use certified instrument approach plates on the device, which I download prior to flight.”
Dr. Chiao explained that the iPads lack of connectivity while in flight limits its utility for now.
“This keeps me from being able to download near-real-time weather radar images onto the moving map display. Commercial GPS receivers are able to do so with an XM radio subscription, so that is a possible upgrade to the iPad in the future, if there is demand.”
Currently Dr. Chiao is having an application developed for use as an electronic checklist and calculator for pilots. His plans for the future are even more intriguing:
“I am a part of a private commercial space venture, called Excalibur Almaz. We are working on creating our own spaceflight program, and ideally, we would adapt the iPad as a multi-function spaceflight tool along the lines of what I am evaluating currently in the airplane flight environment.”