Feb 7, 2009- Space Shuttle computer fact

Reported by Christopher Mims on Popsci.com:
Does the Space Shuttle’s Computer Really Run on Just One Megabyte of RAM?
It’s true: The brain of NASA’s primary vehicle has the computational power of an IBM 5150, that ’80s icon that goes for $20 at yard sales. According to NASA and IBM, the shuttle’s General Purpose Computer (GPC)—which controls, among other things, the entire launch sequence—is an upgrade of the 500-kilobyte computer the shuttle flew with until 1991.
Such an antiquated computer works just fine for NASA. The shuttle doesn’t need to support a powerful graphics engine or create PowerPoint presentations or store MP3s. It focuses entirely on raw functions—thrusters on, thrusters off—which, though mathematically complex, don’t require the juice that a user interface like Windows calls for. The GPC has flown so many missions with hardly a hiccup that there’s no reason to replace it, even if it is just 0.005 percent as powerful as an Xbox 360. Besides, a complete overhaul would be horrendously expensive. The GPC’s software would have to be completely reconfigured for a modern computer and tested until proven flawless.
For proof that you shouldn’t fix a space computer if it ain’t broke, consider Russia’s Soyuz space capsule, which since 1974 has been running Argon-16 flight-computer software with just six kilobytes of RAM. In 2003 the Russians rewrote some of the spacecraft’s software, which experts suspect led to its subsequent crash-landing in a desert in Kazakhstan.


About John Sep

Former Space Shuttle aerospace technician and private pilot now looking towards the next great adventure. Soon to be heading home from my overseas assignment! Transfered my blog from MySpace to here so check my older stuff for info and pictures from my days in space shuttle processing- lots of behind the scenes stuff! He drew pics, flew planes, fought fires and helped launch people into space - what will he do next?
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