Cellphones, hey? We all say we need to spend less time on them. Or at least, that we want to spend less time on them. But they’ve become such a fundamental tool in our everyday life that we just seem to find that screen time racking up and up. So, do astronauts get a chance for a cellphone detox up in space? Can they send a text message? Check their email? Or use their favorite app? Does Apple send them special phones with a ‘spaceflight mode’? Let’s find out!
So, can astronauts use cellphones in space? They can, but they won’t be much use, nor will they last long. Phone calls and text messaging would not be possible because the phones are so out of range from Earth. The presence of a phone on the space station could also be a hazard due to their susceptibility to interfering with radio communications. And to top it off, it would destroy itself anyway.
So with all these factors in mind, it makes you wonder what NASA’s policy actually is on them?
It might not come as much of a surprise, but…
Can You Bring A Cell Phone To Space?
NASA do not allow astronauts to bring their cellphones to space. If they did sneak it up without their permission, it probably wouldn’t last long anyway.
On Earth, cellphones remain at a safe temperature through conduction and convection cooling.
Phones carry out this process by utilizing air pressure on Earth.
As we know, up in space, there is nowhere near as much air pressure.
Cellphones are therefore without their most important self-protection ability.
The inadequate cooling it can provide itself will inevitably lead to the phone destroying itself through excessive heat levels.
It’s not just the excessive heat that is an issue either.
The conditions of space are either one extreme or the other.
Whilst you and the space station you are based on are in direct sunlight, temperatures can reach 120 degrees celsius.
So pretty hot.
But, when you’re not within direct sunlight, the temperature can be as cold as -270.4 degrees celsius.
So yes, things are pretty extreme up there.
And freezing temperatures are also not good for cellphones.
In cold conditions on Earth, touch screens can stop working, and batteries will drain incredibly quickly.
Take it up to unimaginably freezing conditions in space; then it’s safe to say that those issues would worsen.
So, whatever way you look at it, your cellphone will fall victim to the extreme heat or extreme cold up in space.
It’s just a case of which one gets to it first!
Is this a problem? If you want to play your favorite iPhone game, then yes, it is.
However, I don’t think you’d be too bothered when you’re up amongst the mesmerizing stars.
The game can wait.
Astronauts are provided with laptops and computers that can fulfill a cellphone’s main purposes, even without 4G and 5G.
Do Phones Work In Space?
It depends what for. If we’re talking about making a call or sending a text message, then no, phones do not work in space.
Ever been somewhere where you can’t get any signal?
Maybe at the top of a mountain?
Or at a music festival?
Or in a room with thick walls?
You seem so out of touch with the world, and there’s just no hope of ever getting it back.
Well, there’s more hope in those places than there is in space.
Well, space is much further away from the cell towers which humans have built across the surface of our planet.
These towers use phased array focusing and directional antennas that focus radio energy on the Earth’s surface.
Therefore, there isn’t much radio energy going up into space.
Think about it like this. Do you get any signal when you’re on a plane?
No. So, you definitely don’t get any when you’re up in space.
Of course, if you did take a phone up into space, you could still access the features that your phone uses without needing any signal, whether that’s using the flashlight, writing down notes, or merely adjusting the settings.
But astronauts will have more suitable utensils to carry out such activities.
Besides, if you did use your phone up in space for whatever reason, we now know you won’t be doing it for very long.
As discussed above, your phone would quickly overheat and destroy itself or become too cold and stop working!
Can Astronauts Make Phone Calls From Space?
Astronauts can make phone calls from space. Except, they couldn’t make one with a regular cellphone. Instead, they have special phones to make those calls back to Earth.
A standard cellphone won’t suffice in space, unfortunately.
As we’ve discussed above, space is out of range from the Earth’s cell towers.
Astronauts are therefore unable to make calls from space with their cellphones as they don’t have any signal up there.
Although they can’t use a cellphone, Astronauts still have to make regular calls and also attend video conferences from the space station.
They even have to send emails!
So, how is all of this possible?
Astronauts are provided with an IP phone which works through a computer on the station.
As long as they have the right satellite coverage, they can make the necessary phone calls.
Wondering what an IP Phone is? Don’t worry. I’ll explain.
An IP phone is different from a normal phone because it uses an IP (Internet Protocol) network.
In contrast, a normal phone uses a public switched telephone network.
IP phones also use voice-over IP technologies when placing and transmitting calls over the network.
All of which is very easy to do for an astronaut up in the space station.
Luckily for them and NASA, there isn’t an extraterrestrial network that charges obscene amounts of money per minute of your call time.
How Do Astronauts Stay In Contact With Earth?
Astronauts use an IP phone to stay in contact with Earth. NASA also uses a network of communication satellites and ground-based antennas to remain in constant contact with their people up amongst the stars.
With the space station being quite far above the Earth’s atmosphere, it means it crosses the horizon every 4 minutes!
It is therefore nearly impossible to track by using just ground stations.
So, NASA has a small network of satellites that maintain constant communication between the ground satellites and the ones orbiting Earth.
It is through this network that astronauts can send data, like images or videos, back down to their support team station on Earth.
And this is a pretty solid connection that works well!
How Do Astronauts Communicate With Loved Ones?
Astronauts communicate with their loved ones via an IP phone.
Astronauts can dial any number they like using a computer keyboard.
Once they have dialed the number, the signal is sent approximately 90,000 miles away by a communication satellite.
They can then communicate with their loved ones through a headset and microphone.
That is unless the other person back on Earth doesn’t pick up!
Once they have their loved ones on the phone, they can talk to them like a normal phone call.
Although, due to the sheer distance between the communication signal, there is a delay of about a second.
There are some times of the day when making a phone call might prove to be a little more difficult.
Phone signals from the space station are often sent via a frequency of satellite transmission called Ku Band.
At certain moments in time, the space station will be out of range of this satellite.
The station itself can also disrupt the signal if part of it is blocking the way during orbit.
Other than this, making a call back to your family is relatively easy for an astronaut.
In the past, astronauts could not call their loved ones directly.
They only communicated directly to mission control back on Earth.
If they wanted to speak with their family, mission control would have to patch them in via a public telephone network.
Now, astronauts have more convenience and privacy when calling their loved ones as they can call them directly from the station’s IP phone.
Not only do astronauts have convenient ways of communicating, but they also have leisurely ways too.
An IP phone, as we know, uses an internet protocol network.
Yes, that’s right. The internet. The very same one we use back on Earth.
This means that astronauts can send emails, as we’ve already realized, but they can also communicate via social media.
So, the next time you tweet an astronaut, remember, you could be having a conversation with someone up in space.
Or if they don’t reply (sorry if that’s the case), then I guess it wouldn’t be a conversation more like you getting left on reading by someone up in space.
Cellphones aren’t built for the extreme conditions of space, unfortunately.
So, we’ll keep them here on Earth….for now.
Methods of communication between Earth and its astronauts have improved greatly, to the point where it’s as easy as calling your grandma up on a Sunday morning.
So, while they don’t have cellphones per se, they certainly can and do stay in contact with their families back here on Earth.
Wondering what else astronauts can and cannot do? Then my other guides may be of interest:
- Can Astronauts Watch TV In Space?
- Can Astronauts Use Internet In Space?
- Can Astronauts Have Tattoos?
- Can Astronauts Smoke In Space?
- Can Astronauts Drink Alcohol In Space?
- Can Astronauts Burp In Space?
- Can Astronauts Fart In Space?
- Can Astronauts Wear Glasses?
- Can Astronauts See Stars In Space?
Hey, my name is Chris. I’m a passionate and seasoned astronomer who loves nothing more than observing the night sky. I also love researching, learning, and writing all things Space and the Universe. I created Astronomy Scope to share my knowledge, experience, suggestions, and recommendations of what I have learned along the way while helping anyone to get into and maximize their enjoyment of the hobby.