Why NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Flew Old, Slow Computers Into Orbit
The Orion spacecraft floats in the Pacific Ocean after an uncrewed orbital flight test Dec. 5, 2014. In the background is the recovery ship, the USS Anchorage. Credit: NASA
It’s funny to think that your smartphone might be faster than a new spaceship, but that’s what one report is saying about the Orion spacecraft. The computers are less-than-cutting-edge, the processors are 12 years old, and the speed at which it “thinks” is … slow, at least compared to a typical laptop today.
But according to NASA, there’s good reasoning behind using older equipment. In fact, it’s common for the agency to use this philosophy when designing missions — even one such as Orion, which saw the spacecraft soar 3,600 miles (roughly 5,800 kilometers) above Earth in an uncrewed test last week and make the speediest re-entry for a human spacecraft since the Apollo years.
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