Space travel does not always require warp-speed innovation

Connect with state & local government leaders
 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Space travel technology often moves in evolutionary steps, retaining what works even if it's obsolete.

Would you travel to the moon in a vessel equipped only with a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer or a Commodore VIC-20?

The astronauts of the Apollo missions used computer technology that's primitive by today's standards. But as our reach and power into space have expanded — think probes to distant planets, space telescopes, the space shuttle program and the International Space Station — remnants of the old technologies are still in use.

"To this day, NASA still uses elements of technology that powered the moon landings of the 1960s and 1970s, while the International Space Station — the manned station circling the Earth 250 miles above our heads — relies on processors dating back more than two decades," writes Nick Heath at Silicon.com.

The space shuttle program has seen only one major upgrade to its avionics computer technology since the program's inception in the 1970s, Heath adds.

Alessandro Donati, head of the Advanced Mission Concepts and Technologies Office at the European Space Agency's Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, told Heath that the important factor for space exploration IT is reliability, not innovation.

"In aerospace, you don't fly the cutting-edge technology that is being used on the ground by business," Donati said.

Jump to page 2 of this article


FRIDAY FEATURE:

Look at how primitive this seems, and recall that the Apollo program used computers developed 15 or 20 years earlier.

The computer that provided flight guidance for the Apollo missions was so simple that a hobbyist can now build one at home, according to a design from John Pultorak.

The Apollo guidance computer pales in comparison to even the first-generation IBM PC, which at 8K had four times as much memory and a processor that ran at 4.077 MHz, compared with the Apollo computer's 1.024 MHz, writes Grant Robertson at DownloadSquad.com.

"The real-time operating system in the Apollo 11 spacecraft could multitask eight jobs at a time, no small feat for the time it was developed and something we take entirely for granted today," Robertson writes. "Multitasking, however, wasn't quite as we now think of it. Today's operating systems use mostly preemptive multitasking, where the operating system itself is in control of the execution and can stop any program at any time and hand off some computing power to another. The Apollo Guidance Computer relied on non-preemptive multitasking, whereby programs had to relinquish control back to the OS periodically. "

This is not to say that NASA relies on primitive technology. The Apollo computers were cutting-edge for their time, and NASA today pioneers the use of supercomputers for space science.

It is a marvel, though, that something as precise and daring as sending men to the moon, landing them, coordinating a rendezvous with their command module for the ride home and bringing the craft to rest in the ocean with enough precision for surface ships to reach the spot quickly could be done with less computing power than we can today hold in the palms of our hands.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.