Apollo Program vs. Google – Computing Power

17 09 2012


We recently came across an article over at Search Engine Land that quoted a Google blog post about how a single Google search uses as much computing power as the entire Apollo moon mission program did in total!


Google says:

The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) on board the lunar module (LM) executed instructions at a speed of about 40 KHz (or 0.00004 GHz), about 100,000 times slower than a high-end laptop today. There was also a similar real-time computer built into the Saturn V rocket. On the ground, NASA had access to some of the most powerful computers of the day: five IBM model 360/75 mainframe computers, each about 250 times faster than the AGC. They were running nearly 24/7, calculating lift-off data and orbits, monitoring biomedical data during the mission, and performing numerous other calculations.

We compared that to what Google does today, and we found that:

It takes about the same amount of computing to answer one Google Search query as all the computing done — in flight and on the ground — for the entire Apollo program!


This image above is actually a control computer from a spy satellite, probably significantly more advanced than the Apollo computers, but it is of the era.


RIP Neil Armstrong

Curiosity Makes a Successful Landing!

8 08 2012

On Sunday night PDT, the latest Mars Rover, Curiosity, made a successful landing on the surface of Mars.

Mars Science Laboratory (nicknamed “Curiosity” after a suggestion taken from schoolchildren in a national contest) is the most advanced vehicle ever deposited on a foreign celestial body in the history of our species. 

It is twice as long as the previous pair of rovers, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and five times as heavy. It has ten times the mass of science instruments.

Probably as exciting as anything else is the way that MSL landed on Mars. After hurtling through interplanetary space for 8 1/2 months, it entered the relatively thin Martian atmosphere, bleeding off a speed of roughly 3.6 miles per second down to 1,500 feet per second before deploying its parachute.

After the chute deployed, the heat shield fell away (which was captured in an amazing video) and the craft descended until it reached an altitude of about one mile, where it let go of the parachute and backshell, and began to freefall before its rocket motors kicked in to slow the descent.


Finally, just above the surface, the rover itself was lowered down from the “sky crane”, the jetpack descent vehicle, as the sky crane hovered in a stationary position. Once it touched down, the rover fired pyrotechnics which severed the cables to the sky crane and allowed it to fly off and crash land away from the rover.

Of course, all of this happened automatically within a very precise window.  All steps were executed perfectly and the rover later sent back initial images that let JPL know that all was well.


left image with the transparent dust cover on the lens, right image without


check out that shadow!

Two satellites currently orbit Mars – Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Each has the capability of receiving signals from the rover and relaying them back to Earth. 

MRO also took a phenomenal image of the landing, including the inflated parachute with the spacecraft dangling below:


Later it took this amazing shot of the landing area including all constituent components:


The Curiosity rover is in the center of the image. To the right, approximately 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) away, lies the heat shield, which protected the rover from 3,800-degree-Fahrenheit (about 2,100 degrees Celsius) temperatures encountered during its fiery descent. On the lower left, about 2,020 feet (615 meters) away, are the parachute and back shell. The parachute has a constructed diameter of 71 feet (almost 21.5 meters) and an inflated diameter of 51 feet (nearly 16 meters). The back shell remains connected to the chute via 80 suspension lines that are 165 feet (50 meters) long. To the upper-left, approximately 2,100 feet (650 meters) away from the rover, is a discoloration of the Mars surface consistent with what would have resulted when the rocket-powered Sky Crane impacted the surface.

Here’s the heat shield, the first part to hit the surface:


Parachute and backshell:


And the crash-landed sky crane jetpack:


We are very much looking forward to the science that Curiosity will begin returning in the coming years!

While we’re in the topic of Mars rovers, let’s not forget that one of the last rovers, Opportunity (which landed on Mars in January if 2004) is still functional and sending back images and scientific measurements a full 8 years hence!

Here’s a great panorama that Opportunity recently sent back:


Go SpaceX!

21 07 2012


From a SpaceX press release:


Mission Highlights Video | Dragon Makes History

On May 25, 2012, SpaceX made history when the Dragon spacecraft became the first privately developed vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station. Previously only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had achieved this feat.

The video below features key highlights from the mission including:

  • May 22: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
  • May 23: Dragon orbited Earth as it traveled toward the International Space Station.
  • May 24: Dragon’s sensors and flight systems were subjected to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle was ready to attach to the space station.
  • May 25: NASA gave Dragon the GO to attempt berthing with the station. Dragon approached. It was successfully captured by the station’s robotic arm.
  • May 26: US astronaut Don Pettit opened Dragon’s hatch and the astronauts entered.
  • May 31: After six days at the International Space Station, Dragon departed for its return to Earth, carrying a load of cargo for NASA. SpaceX completed its historic mission when Dragon splashed down safely in the Pacific.