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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

How Apollo 11 influenced modern computer software and hardware | Premium Content - Computer Weekly - TechTarget

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download:   Computer Weekly: How Apollo 11 influenced modern computing

50 years since Nasa’s historic mission to send man to the Moon, Cliff Saran, managing editor (technology) on Computer Weekly magazine, looks at the pioneering computer technology developed by the space agency.

In this week’s Computer Weekly, on the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings we look at the influence Apollo 11 had on modern hardware and software.  

The importance of computers in getting Neil Armstrong and his colleagues to the Moon and back to Earth cannot be underestimated. But the sort of technology available to Nasa in the early 1960s was very different from the computer that was used on Apollo 11 and the lunar landing module.

Paul Kostek, a senior Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) member and senior systems expert at Base2, said: “Prior to the Apollo lunar mission computers were huge machines that filled up entire rooms.”

So, among the numerous engineering challenges the Apollo engineers and scientists faced was: how could such a machine be miniaturised to work on the Columbia command and service module and Eagle lunar module? “Microprocessors had not been invented,” said Kostek, “but the engineers on the Apollo programme were able to scale a computer down to something that could be flown into space.”...

Takeaways from Apollo 11 
It was one small step for Neil Armstrong, but a giant leap in faith in software, according to Kostek, who said: “Since the time of Apollo, all space probes have been over-engineered. It may take 10 to 15 years to get to a planet, but the probe is designed to last for 30 years and offers extra service life, which has been incredibly fortunate for the scientists. These systems are built simply and reliably.”

Given the vast distances a spacecraft travels on an interplanetary mission, Atkins said the probes that venture into the far reaches of the solar system and beyond need to be engineered for adaptability, in order to run experiments over and beyond the original mission goals. “On the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the craft lived far longer than they were supposed to and the scientists needed to transform their original code,” she said.

Over the lifetime of these missions, the usual conservatism that goes into space travel was lowered as scientists tried out new algorithms, she added.
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Source: Computer Weekly - TechTarget