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Apple-related technologies on display with Mars rover

updated 09:26 pm EDT, Mon August 6, 2012

Number of MacBook Pros at JPL, descendant of G3 on Curiosity

NASA's widely-watched Curiosity rover landing on Mars, which touched down at 1:31 Eastern Standard Time Monday morning, had numerous connections to Apple technologies. From the prominent display of MacBook Pros in the control room to the rover itself (sporting a pair of G3-era processors), the space agency is much more visibly using technology associated with Apple now.

The rover itself has a variant of the IBM-designed, Motorola-made PowerPC chip as its core processor. The PPC 750 family was found in every G3-powered machine, all the way from the first Bondi Blue iMac to the end of the line iBook G3. The Curiosity rover is powered by a pair of radiation-hardened BAE-produced RAD 750 processors. The chips on the space mission have a larger environmental tolerance than desktop chips, as one would expect from a space-capable processor.

The single-board system (CPU and motherboard combination) can withstand up to 100,000 rad (1,000 gray). For perspective, a radiation worker's annual limits as set by federal law are five rem (generally equivalent to a rad, under most conditions) per year, not to exceed three rem per calendar quarter. A worker receiving a single dose of 100 rem over a short period of time will start to exhibit signs of radiation sickness. United States citizens receive approximately 0.36 rem of exposure per year from naturally-occurring radiation sources. Apollo astronauts received a dose of approximately 0.5 rem during their flights, which would be more inline with what one would expect the Curiosity rover to receive over a 10-day span in space. Martian background radiation is much higher than the Earth's, at approximately 50 rad of exposure per year. Modern processors such as the Sandy or Ivy Bridge Intel chips are expected to exhibit major calculational errors after just 100 rad of cumulative exposure.

The hardened processor was first installed on the Deep Impact comet-chasing craft, and will be launched on the Titan Saturn System Mission in 2020. There have been over 150 RAD750 processors installed in a number of spacecraft from different nations since the radiation-resistant one was released in 2004.

The Apple links don't stop on the rover. In live-streamed video from Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, a bevy of engineers and scientists monitoring the rover's process sat huddled around their computers -- mostly MacBook Pro 15-inch models. While not readable, the bar-code sticker on the lid of the units signify the machines as US Government property, according to sources contacted by MacNN. None of the computers with visible displays appeared to be running Windows or Linux.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. beb

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 01-29-02

    Didn't NASA have a big screen that said Windows XP somewhere?

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Yes. The big presentation screen in the background of one of the photos was running a Windows screensaver. Meaning, it couldn't have been anything very important.

  1. Thorzdad

    Moderator

    Joined: 08-16-01

    There were a boatload of MBPs and iPads in use in the control room...

    4854/width/350/height/700[/IMG]

  1. iphonerulez

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-28-08

    And the point being that a few MacBook Pros are being used in NASA. Possibly 5% Apple products to 95% Wintel products. It doesn't seem to be very significant a number to indicate an Apple takeover. :

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by iphonerulezView Post

    And the point being that a few MacBook Pros are being used in NASA. Possibly 5% Apple products to 95% Wintel products. It doesn't seem to be very significant a number to indicate an Apple takeover. :


    That was the point?

    Funny. I don't remember anybody making that point.

    Also, do you have a source for those percentages, or can we just assume that you completely made them up?

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    Are we still doing this? "OMG! Look! I see a Mac on TV! Let's tell all my friends! This is so cool!" It's like living back in the 90s and Seinfeld comes on or something.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    Originally Posted by NewsPosterView Post

    NASA's widely-watched Curiosity rover landing on Mars, which touched down at 1:31 Eastern Standard Time Monday morning, had numerous connections to Apple technologies. From the prominent display of MacBook Pros in the control room to the rover itself (sporting a pair of G3-era processors), the space agency is much more visibly using technology associated with Apple now.

    The rover itself has a variant of the IBM-designed, Motorola-made PowerPC chip as its core processor.



    Talk about stretching things to a far-flung end. The Rover uses a processor from 10-15 years ago, which is one of many variants made by IBM/Motorola, another one of which Apple used in their Macs at the time. Wow!

    Based on this flimsy connection, you might as well mention how the rovers have a connection to Be computers (they also used the G3!), and, just like the BeOS, the rovers can't print either! The similarities are amazing!

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    Originally Posted by NewsPosterView Post

    Modern processors such as the Sandy or Ivy Bridge Intel chips are expected to exhibit major calculational errors after just 100 rad of cumulative exposure.



    And just to point out, the G3 would also exhibit major calculational errors after minimal exposure to radiation. That's why they created this special variation; it's designed specifically for use in space. Hence why it can withstand the radiation. It being a G3 vs. an Intel vs. a SPARC is immaterial to that fact (though I understand they were going to use a Pentiuum at the time, but they feared if it got too close to the sun, it would cause the sun to overheat and explode!)

  1. c4rlob

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 05-21-09

    If the NASA staff shirts were a deeper blue this could easily be an Apple Genius Bar commercial!!

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