June 4, 2012

Computer Hardware and the Space Shuttle

Texas Tech alumnus Rick Husband was the final ...
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With something as sophisticated as the space shuttle, one would think it would have the most modern computer hardware available. That every function would be monitored and overseen by the newest and most powerful chips and programming that have been developed to date. After all, the mathematics involved in safely getting the shuttle, astronauts and payload up to the space station and back require the computational power of nothing less than a supercomputer. Furthermore, redundancy systems should be at least if not more powerful to have the most reliable and safest fall-back systems that can be developed for these intrepid space travelers.

But that would, surprisingly, not be accurate. The computer hardware and technology for the Shuttle was originally developed back in the early 1980s. And the computer which controls the space shuttle runs on only a single megabyte of RAM. This sounds absurd but it is the reality. The hardware and computer that run the shuttle are over thirty years old. However the computer currently in use is an upgraded version of the one that was in use until 1991. However it was still modeled on the identical older technology.

A reasonable question would be, why not employ the newest technology and hardware in the shuttle? And the mostly inarguable answer is, if something is not broken don’t fix it. The bottom line is that the shuttle does not need the extra power and computational ability newer chips and technology would bring. It would also bring higher costs and a very extended period of testing to get to a near perfect record of reliability.

As the space shuttle is scheduled to be decommissioned at the end of the year, it stands to reason that any newer generations will employ the newest computers and hardware then available, as all systems will be designed from the ground up anyway.

The space shuttle has been quite successful in fulfilling its assigned missions. And if it is happy achieving the goals with technology it has, why meddle with success. Seems they are thinking like rocket scientists over at NASA.

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