On the crisp clear morning of April 12, 1981 at 7:00:03 a.m. EST
At the Nasa launch pad, the great technical wonder, the Space Shuttle, was launched and roared into the skies on it’s maiden voyage. It’s five onboard computers were the greatest in advanced technology. Each of the five AP-101 computers built by IBM was an absolute marvel with a 16 bit processor and 64k of addressable memory at a speed of 6 MHz! This same computer was the marvel behind the success of the B-1 Bomber and the F-15 Eagle!
I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking this sounds like an AT 286 computer.
There was only one upgrade in 1988-89 an that was to upgrade the memory to 1 MEG !
Does that mean the Shuttle is obsolete?
If you compare the present quad core processors (four 64 bit processors in one) operating at 3 gigaherz and able to address 128 gig of memory that can be purchased at 1/3 the price; it does seem a little out dated 🙂
But the real question is can it do the job that needs to be done?
What operating system are these computers running, Windows for Workgroups?
No! The shuttle’s software is written in HAL/S a real-time aerospace programming language. HAL/S is written in XPL, a dialect of PL/I.
Can the astronauts get email with it? No, the computers purpose is to respond to every input of their sensors in the operation of the shuttle. The only upgrades to the operating system that is required is when the shuttle’s operation is modified or upgraded.
Isn’t it a little slow? For what it does, 6 millionth of a second is more then enough!
It seems we all have the Tim Taylor complex from the TV show Home Improvement.
The LAST thing NASA needs is someone like that! Remember what he did to his garbage disposal! How about what he did to the motor in his recliner chair!
The purpose of the onboard Shuttle’s computers and their requirements have not changed since 1981!
While the purpose and requirements of the computer that sits at your desk changes every 3 months!
Graphics requirements have forced the motherboard manufacturers to incorporate a separate processor just for graphic rendering! The complexity of the I/O (input/output) must now matrix communications not only from the keyboard and mouse but also networking, USB data, serial data, parrallel data, remote access and video data without letting any of them slow down. Thus there is a third processor on the motherboards, the I/O Chipset. While the main Processor on the motherboard has to get stronger and more powerful to oversee and manage the operations of the other processors as well as all programs and operation requirements.
Will the demands on the computer continue to increase? YES !Video communications will continue to double each year requiring the computer to not only do what it is doing now but add voice recognition with full streaming video.
Does that mean we will be watching movies over the internet on our computer? YES ! 250,000,000 servers are ready right now to start transmitting movies once all the legal rights are worked out.
The the two questions that need to be asked are:
Does the shuttle need a computer upgrade? NO !
Do we need to keep our computers up-to-date and ready for the next iterations and developments? YES!
Soon 80 percent of the movies we will see, will be seen on our computer! Even all the episodes of Home Inprovement!
Hey it’s much better to see Tim Taylor on your computer then allow him access to the inside of your computer or inside the Space Shuttle! 🙂
We are here for you.