You may have heard that NASA pulled off a spectacular landing of a Mars rover last week. Just for fun, we thought we’d give you a short run through of the hardware that’s running this nuclear-powered laboratory.
You may be surprised to learn that your mobile phone likely has more computing power than Curiosity’s PC. A RAD750 Processor, 250 mb of RAM, and 2GB of memory. All this would be impressive on a computer released 15 years ago – not so much now. So why the Windows 95-era hardware? In a word: durability. Sure, your Blackberry may be able to outperform the rover on Earth, but after traveling through space at speeds in excess of 90,000 km/hr, and pulling 9Gs during a bumpy landing, your phone would have the same computational power as a martian rock. The cosmic radiation alone would fry every circuit that it has.
To combat these problems, NASA contracted BAE Systems to outfit Curiosity with two computers that are virtually impervious to space’s radiation. They can withstand a lifetime dose large enough to kill a human a million times over. Besides, when your nearest onsite technician is 550,000,000 km away, it’s best to keep things simple.