Shuttle Tech

March 24th, 2010

From Motherboard tv

Watching astronauts repair one of the most complex machines ever built while flying 300 miles above the Earth in the new IMAX film Hubble 3D may be a ‘religious experience’. But the vehicle they took to get up there can sometimes feel as small and ramshackle as an old 18-wheeler.

The soon-to-be-retired Space Shuttle is 30 years old and remarkably relies on an on-board flight computer much less sophisticated than the phone you’re reading this on: yup, the craft’s General Purpose Computer uses just one MB of RAM. It kind of puts your memory problems into perspective, now doesn’t it?

The shuttle’s reliance also goes to show how much humans can do even with old tools, provided they’re reliable. The aging ship – perhaps the most complex machine ever built – is “truly a remarkable piece of hardware,” astronaut (and erstwhile IMAX cameraman) Scott Altman told Motherboard at a recent reception for the film, where he was wearing his blue flight suit while juggling a glass of gold-colored liquid and a mini hamburger.

Besides the fact that the computer just works, there’s at least one benefit of relying on a machine slower than a 386 with a purpose-built operating system: “You never get that blue screen of death!”

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