NASA’s Orion spacecraft is the most futuristic spacecraft to ever be built, but the tech inside it is shockingly old school, like the onboard computer powering the entire mission, that’s basically only powerful as an 11 year old G3 iBook.
On Earth scientists are all about pursuing the bleeding edge of tech, but in space the number one concern is reliability. Thanks to the higher amounts of radiation astronauts will travel through on the way to Mars, NASA’s engineers have to use a system that’s been tried and test. So to power their computer they’re are using an IBM PowerPC 750FX, that debuted in 2002 and isn’t even as powerful as an iPhone 6.
The 750FX chips were originally released in 2002, and some version of the iBook G3 from 2003 carried the exact same chip NASA used for Orion’s computer. Some G3 iMacs also carried a less powerful version of the 750X processor reports Geek.com.
“The 750FX powering the Orion runs at 900MHz with a bus speed of 166 MHz, and 512KB of on-die L2 cache. It was manufactured with a 0.13 μm process (130 nm). For comparison, we’re now down to 14nm process technology in the Core M family of processors. In a direct core-to-core comparison, the 750FX is about as powerful as a the ARM chip used in a Samsung Galaxy SIII.
What it doesn’t have in processing power though the computer makes up for with extra radiation shielding. NASA also added thicker circuit boards and vibration resistant fasteners so it won’t be permanently damage on the long journey. The also tossed in two backup computers that are running the exact same software and constantly error checking each other for radiation anomalies, that way the odds of an entire system reboot will only occur once per 1,870,000 missions.