Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

The Ancient Computers Powering the Space Race

CmdrTaco posted about 4 years ago | from the abacus-in-orbit dept.

Space 253

An anonymous reader writes "Think that the exploration of space is a high tech business? Technology dating back to the Apollo moon landings is still used by Nasa mission control for comms and the 1980s 386 processors that keep the International Space Station aloft."

cancel ×


Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

This is news? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710696)

I thought everyone was aware of this by now. :-/

In The Ghetto, 01-10. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710884)

In the Ghetto Part I

It was pitch-black in the roach-infested double-wide trailer. All was quiet except for the gurgling sound of an infant, shut away in its own room.

The floor creaked as a mass of flesh made its way to the infant's room. The door slowly opened, creating a growing triangle of light on the floor. The infant coughed and gagged and began to cry as it was overpowered by the horrid stench.

"It's time to suck on daddy's special pacifier, Marticock!"

As the door creaked shut, the whale in the master bedroom wept into her pillow. What kind of life was this for her precious little Marticock?

In the Ghetto Part II

Reza sat at the kitchen table, her cigarette smoke blending with the steam rising from her coffee cup. She took a sip of coffee and adjusted the rollers in her hair. She rubbed her eyes, which were still puffy from crying into her pillow all night.

Vlad shuffled into the room, wearing nothing but his briefs and a stained t- shirt, "hey you fat, pig, how are you this morning," he burped.

"Vlad, we have to talk."

"What now, fat-ass?"

"It's about Marticock. You have to stop molesting him... I think it will make it harder for him to make friends later on..."

Vlad slammed his fist onto the table, causing Reza to jump. She farted.

"You're not supposed to think, bitch! You're supposed to be making me breakfast! Where is it?!"

"Vlad, please..."

"Remember when we saw the Matrix Reloaded last weekend? THAT'S the style of Martial Arts I practice, bitch. You're about to get a FREE LESSON!"

Reza rose from her chair, causing it to fall over and ran - as best she could - into the bedroom to cry again.

"Fucking bitch," Vlad farted.

In the Ghetto Part III

Vlad sat on the living room couch, the cushions torn and vomiting foam from their inner core as he bounced up and down in excitement. He screamed at the television, as he shook his fist at it, sending Budweiser spilling out all over the floor.

"Come on, you goddamn white boy, if I wuz in there, he'd be dead now. Let's see some goddamn wrestling!"

Vlad didn't notice the doorbell ringing and continued screaming obsessively at the television as Reza bounced through the room to open the door.

Reza stood at the doorway in a sheeny, purple, see-through nighty, smiling at the black couple who greeted her, "hi I'm Reza! You must be Pedro and Florence from the personal ad..."

As a commercial flashed onto the television, Vlad turned to see what all the comotion was about. He recognized Pedro in the blue cathode-ray glow, "hey DOOOOOG!"

Vlad hopped from the couch, emitting a spurt of gas as he did so.

Pedro and Florence, who was holding a fat black child with curly hair, entered the dingey apartment. Vlad and Pedro high-fived each other and then Pedro began to rap:

This is Pedro G
Gangsta P
Sippin' on Hi-C
Smokin' PCP
Smooooooth Nigga

Vlad began to break-dance to the off-the-cuff rap. Farting with each bend of the leg and twist of the waist.

Oooooooh. A little Mastah B on the Bonus T
Got it goin' on girl
Droppin' Baby Marticock on your ass, Byatttch

Vlad and Pedro laughed heartily and butted guts.

"You ready to do some swappin' V-Dog," Pedro drooled. Reza grew wet with the suggestion.

"You bet I is, bro," Vlad replied eagerly. He trampled off into the other room, much to Reza's confusion.

In no time at all, Vlad returned holding Marticock, gurgling and farting. Pedro took his child from Florence and exchanged him for Marticock.

Reza frowned and shook her head, "no, no, no!"

Vlad and Pedro laughed as Reza and Florence ran into the bedroom to weep.

Vlad grinned as he removed the black child's diaper, "this is gonna be good! I never cornholed me a nigra before!"

In the Ghetto Part IV

Reza gazed into the bathroom mirror. The sense of despair overwhelmed her. Vlad's nightly visits to Marticock the Gurgling Penis Socket had been torturing her for weeks. She hadn't slept at all and it was beginning to show. The bags under her eyes were dark and full. Her eyes were red from constant crying. She even thought she could see some wrinkles appearing in her puffy face. She had to do something.

She opened the mirror to reveal a series of shelves. She found Vlad's razor and took it with her shaking hand. She closed the mirror again and stared deeply into her own eyes. Did she really want to do this? Was this the only way out of this mess? She heard the front door slam, followed by a loud belch and fart. Those three sounds that used to bring her so much comfort. She decided she must end it now.

In the living room of the double-wide, Vlad threw his empty Budweiser can onto the floor. He plunged his hand down the back of his pants to fish desperately for a ball of crust caught in his anal hairs that had been plaguing him all day. He moaned deeply as he plucked the nugget from his anus, taking along a few assorted hairs with it.

"Hey, bitch, where's my dinner?" Vlad screamed.

He heard a crashing sound in the bathroom, followed by a thud and a large splash.

"Fucking cunt," he spluttered.

Vlad trudged into the kitchen and liberated another Budweiser from the bottom shelf. He opened the can and drank half the contents, signifying his approval with an enormous belch. Suddenly, he heard more splashing and riff-raff in the bathroom. He wallowed across the room and into the hallway and opened the bathroom door.

Vlad was shocked. Reza was laying in the tub, completely bald. Not only were her legs hairless for the first time in years, but so were her armpits! The hair on her upper lip had been completely removed, as well as the ratty hair that covered her scalp. Vlad's mind reeled. How could she have managed to reach her legs with all of that lard in the way?

"Look, Vlad! I am Marticock!" Reza said with a hint of hope in her voice, "you can molest me now!"

Vlad farted, "Marticock?"

Reza nodded, "Ummmm-hmmmm!"

Vlad shook his head. He noticed the comforting gurgling sound in the room down the hall, "Marticock..."

Vlad turned and stumbled down the hallway to Marticock's room. He opened the creaking, paper-thin door, "daddy's home, Marticock! Open wide!"

Reza cried so hard that she deficated in the tub.

In the Ghetto Part V

Vlad farted.

It was a plump, furry fart with a long wet tail. Vlad couldn't tell if the vibration at the end of the fart was just particularly chaotic or if it had left a moist surprise for him. He reached down the back of his underwear to feel around and discovered some moistness on his underwear. He sniffed his fingers and his mouth watered at the unusual scent. He wiped his fingers dry using his t-shirt.

Vlad knew this would be a good day.

In the Ghetto Part VI

Vladinator's bulk took up most of the sidewalk as he waddled slowly towards his destination. Pedestrians jumped out of his way into oncoming traffic to avoid being trampled. Finally, panting heavily and with a river of sweat running from every gland, his three-block walk came to an end. He found what he had been searching for. He let out a satisfied fart as he looked at the sign:

Chicago Unemployment Office

Inside, a long line of vagrants and lost souls stood waiting in front of the counter. It smelled of piss and vomit. Scott Lockwood squeezed himself through the door, and the smell worsened tremendously.

Vlad looked at the dozens of people in line ahead of him, contemplating the long wait he faced before he could get his check. "No, this won't do," he thought. "This won't do at all." His face took on a grimace of deep concentration, followed by an intense sigh of relief.

It was silent, but deadly. One by one, his fellow unemployables screamed as they felt the burning in their lungs. Some began to retch. Within a minute, everyone had either fled in terror or lost consciousness. Vlad was now at the head of the line! "Much better," he thought to himself.

He waddled up to the counter and smiled a yellowish smile. Standing there was a cute teenage girl wearing a standard-issue gas mask. But Vlad had no interest in girls. "Give me mah check!"

"Your name please, sir?"

"William Scott Lockwood III. Hurry up, cunt!"

"One moment." The girl tapped buttons on her computer, and then frowned at Vlad. "I'm sorry, sir, but your Unemployment coverage has expired. It looks like you've made no effort to get a job for over two years, so we have to cut you off."

Vlad's face turned red with rage. He farted an angry fart. "WHAT?! I'll fucking kill you, bitch!" Vlad dropped into a sad parody of a martial arts stance. The sound of his pants ripping was followed immediately by another kind of ripping. The counter-girl's gas mask began to melt away.

She pushed a button, and a plexiglass barrier dropped between her and Vladinator. "I wouldn't try that, sir."

Vlad fell on his ass, exhaused from his attempt at moving his body. A farting sound was heard as he landed. He began to cry. "Why would you do this to me? Is it because I is black?"

"Pardon me, sir?"

"Whitey is just trying to keep the Black Man down! Everywhere I go, nobody gives me a chance, because of the color of my skin! A nigger just can't make it in the world today because of all the prejudice and bigotry!"

The girl looked at him with sympathy and concern. She pointed to a mirror on the wall next to Vlad. Vlad turned his head to look, and then screamed in terror at what he saw.

"WHITE! I'm white?! NOO!!"

The girl nodded.

Vlad continued to blubber, "you mean, the white man ISN'T keeping me from getting a job? The white man ISN'T keeping me from having a good life? All these years I thought..." He trailed off into incoherant sobbing and farting.

The girl shook her head sadly. "Mr. Lockwood, there IS a white man keeping you from having a good job and a good life. That white man is yourself."

Vlad felt shame as his bladder emptied into his pants, because he knew it was true.

In the Ghetto Part VII

Vladinator slowly waddled home smelling or urine and flatulence after his unsuccessful trip to the Chicago Unemployment Office. Tears and mucous ran down his face as he sobbed about the sad state of his life. Even knowing that baby Marticock would be there in a skimpy diaper waiting for him at home was no comfort now. He was miserable and he wanted to die.

Not wanting to go home and face his family without his unemployment check, he turned off the sidewalk into a narrow alley between two tall buildings. Then he realized he wouldn't fit through the alley, and went back to find another one that was wider. It grew dark as he walked through the forgotten back-alleys of Chicago's filthy slums.

Suddenly, Vlad heard a gun being cocked. A voice behind him barked out, "don't move or you're a dead man!"

Vlad saw that a homeless Negroid mugger had pointed a gun at him. "What do you want from me?" Vlad whined.

The homeless Negroid mugger responded, "You have two choices. Give me all your money, or I'm going to rape your ass. By the way, I have AIDS."

Vlad stammered, "B...but I don't have any money!"

"I guess I'm going to have to rape your ass, then," the homeless Negroid mugger replied sadly.

"Yes, well, I guess that's the only other choice, now isn't it," Vlad quickly replied.

"If that's how it has be... well, okay. I'm going to rape your ass now."

So he did.

Afterwards, when the homeless Negroid mugger had left, Vlad removed the large wad of money that he'd hidden between two rolls of his stomach that morning, and took a deep whiff of it.

"I am SO clever," thought Vlad.

In the Ghetto Part VIII

Vlad sat at the kitchen table finishing off a case of Budweiser. The metal table, with its peeling yellow paint comforted Vlad. He belched heartily as he admired his vinyl and plastic life in the double-wide. The only fly in Vlad's ointment was the elephantine woman who was cowering in the bedroom closet sobbing at Vlad's approaching Marticock Time.

As much beer as Vlad had consumed, he still could not alleviate the burning in his pants. His penis was chafed and red from its constant attacks upon Marticock's ass. Vlad loved the tightness of it, but it did have drawbacks. He shoved his hand down his unzipped pants and worked his hand around the layers of lard until he found his penis. He rubbed it carefully, sending thin rolls of dirt-encrusted skin flaking into his pubic hair. His penis burned intensely as he rubbed away the scabs to leave large areas of tender, pus-coated sores.

Vlad's penis twitched to attention as he manipulated it. Vlad downed the rest of his beer and tossed the can onto the living-room couch - the back seat of the Chevy van which was up on blocks in Vlad's front yard. It was Marticock Time. Vlad waddled to the refrigerator and fished out a tub of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. He plunged his stiffened penis into the margarine, causing a thimble-sized indentation in the otherwise smooth yellow surface. Vlad massaged the margarine into his penis until it was nice and buttery.

Vlad belched, "Wake up Marticock! Here cums daddy!"

The mating call caused a spasm of nervousness to clench around Reza's bowel. She farted loudly as she quivered to each heavy thud of Vlad's footsteps. Her crying was matched only by the screaming of the molested Marticock.

In the Ghetto Part IX

Reza's face was cast in stark shadow. Marticock gurgled and drooled as she looked upon his paleness, lit only by the blue moonlight filtering through the window. Reza heard an enormous explosion in the bathroom and knew that Vlad would be there for a long while. She stared at the drooling Marticock with a grimace on her face. This was the first time that she actually looked upon her baby son with disdain. It was all Marticock's fault. She hadn't had sex since he came spilling from her substantial gut. Before Marticock, Vlad had treated her with respect, only beating her when she deserved it, and had made her feel like a real woman for the first time in her life.

Now, it seemed that all Vlad could do was drink beer, emit gasses and molest his son. He had even managed to land a job shoveling cow dung at the local slaughterhouse, only to get fired the next morning for being late - late because he spent too much time probing the tiny anus that lay before Reza. She frowned even more. How could it have come to this? For nine months, she had planned a wonderful life with her husband and their child. The reality was quite different.

A small, thin stream of gas escaped from Marticock's anus. Marticock's flatulence was a point of pride for Vlad and he often enjoyed a burst of cool gas on his penis while molesting his son. But the spurt of noise only reminded Reza of the times before Marticock. When Vlad would violate her as no other man could, with his farts causing him to vibrate like an electric dildo. That was the last straw for Reza. She let her robe slip from her body as she undressed Marticock.

Vlad squeezed out the last few drops of liquified feces from his gut. Satisfied that he had completely expunged the wastes that lurked within, he reached around the back of the toilet for the golf club. He wrapped a thick mass of toilet paper around the club and squatted on the floor, using the club to wipe his ass - the only way he could reach himself through the vast rolls of lard.

Vlad pulled his yellowed t-shirt down over his waist and headed for the nursery. Nothing crowned a relaxing defecation like a visit to Marticock. He quickly opened the door to Marticock's room and flipped on the light. Vlad farted in shock at the sight before him.

Reza was squatting on the floor, her paper-white ass cheeks protruding like two enormous dumplings, pocked and wrinkled and bursting with cellulite. Marticock was hanging from her vagina, his head fully wrapped in the rancid lips, which were stretched so wide that they had begun to tear. Blood and pus oozed from the yeast-infected vagina all over Marticock's body. Vlad stared, his mouth agape, as Reza held Marticock's legs and shoved him, as hard as she could, back into her womb.

As Reza shoved on Marticock, his legs spread apart, causing his anus to be plainly visible. Vlad grew excited and could not control his desire for little Marticock. Vlad ran over to Reza and shoved his scabbed penis into Marticock's anus. With each violent thrust, Marticock was shoved further into the mounds of disgusting lard. Vlad licked Reza's blood and pus from Marticock as he ejaculated a few spurts of semen onto his own pot-belly.

All of the commotion had caused Reza to become extremely excited and she exploded with an orgasm - an orgasm that had been months in the making. The force of the release caused Marticock to shoot back out from her vagina. Reza fell backward onto Vlad and the three Cockwoods lay in a giant, pale heap on the floor, farting with satisfaction.

In the Ghetto Part X

The orange vinyl of the couch stuck to Vlad's pale, massive leg as he guzzled another beer. Vlad had "made" the couch from the back seat of his Chevy van after the bank had repossessed most of his belongings. The seat was not needed on the van anyway, since it had been up on blocks in the front yard for the better part of a year. Vlad farted and enjoyed the unique sound of the vinyl flapping against his fattened leg due to the vibration of the escaping gasses. The couch was the only seating in the living room of the double-wide and so Reza was usually consigned to the floor. Vlad never let her sit next to him, claiming that his massive gut "needed to breathe".

Reza sat on the stained yellow carpet wearing a see-through purple gown. She sat with her legs spread open, exposing her red, infected vagina. The massive flaps of flesh that were her labia hung from her crotch and melted into a heap on the floor, still stretched and bruised from her attempt to reinsert Marticock into her womb. Various milky and pungent substances oozed from the massive black hole onto the floor to create a sticky white puddle. Carter, the Lockwood's dog, mosied over to the puddle and lapped it up as Reza belched up a portion of the evening's meal.

Vlad dug his fingernails deep into the flesh surrounding his anus and scratched heartily, oblivious to the tiny details of Lockwood life that were playing out around him. His meditations were, however, interrupted by a banging on the loosened screen door of the double-wide. A pang of excitement shot through Vlad's bowel and expressed itself as a thunderous burst of flatulence. He tried to leap up from the couch, but the hold of gravity upon his massive body slowed him significantly. Eventually Vlad made it to his feet and trudged to the door. He opened it to an extremely large man, with a flabby gut hanging all the way down to his knees.


"Hey, Vladdie," the gruff voice chortled, "give me some sugar, son..."

Vlad melted into the massive, hairy arms and inhaled deeply to savor the comforting scent of week-old sweat. Poppa rubbed Vlad's back with his dirt- encrusted hands, massaging his way down to Vlad's butt. He took one cheek in each hand and squeezed passionately. Vlad moaned with pleasure and placed his lips firmly on his father's. Vlad partially opened his mouth, and stuck his tongue out, past his missing teeth and into his fathers mouth.

Vlad could taste the residue of tobacco his father had been chewing and this excited him even more. He moved his hands down his father's back and into the back of his pants. Vlad carressed his father's bare ass, exploring each pock and wrinkle with his fingers and massaging his anus. Vlad's penis swiftly snapped to its full 1 inch of attention as he explored the moist, tight anus of his father.

"Vlad! What about me, damnit, " Reza screamed.

Vlad pulled away from his father and shook his head, "oh yeah, follow me, Poppa."

Reza smiled with a glimmer of hope which was quickly smothered as Vlad walked uncaringly past her, followed by Poppa. Reza began to sob uncontrollably then screamed loudly as Poppa stepped on her bruised labia. She rolled over onto her massive stomach and cried and screamed as she pounded the dirty floor of the double-wide.

Vlad motioned his father to Marticock's room, "I figure we can start out with me in Marticock's ass and you in mine," Vlad said eagerly.

"Now wait a minute, son! I want a piece of that tight little ass too!"

Vlad's eyes brightened with hope, "does that mean you're gonna let me in the back door this time, Poppa?"

Poppa smiled and patted Vlad on the back, "you betcha, son. I've been lookin' forward to this for a loooong time. Three generations of Lockwood, doin' it the Lockwood way!"

Vlad farted with excitement.

Re:This is news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710964)

Aren't a lot of CPUs in the space program not recycled from medical equipment, because those have proven to be reliable?

Re:This is news? (4, Informative)

commodore64_love (1445365) | about 4 years ago | (#33711054)

It's the same in any long-life service, like space and military. For example the Aegis missile system runs on 286s and 386s while the busses run on a sedate 200 kilohertz speed. There have been recent upgrades to "new" PowerPCs or Pentiums, but only for a few select ships.

There are even some strange home users that still run on primitive CPUs from the Seventies! Like 6502, 8088, and 68000

Re:This is news? (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 4 years ago | (#33711496)

It's slightly different in space, because radiation hardening is also an important factor. ESA uses a lot of SPARC32 chips, in the form of the (GPL'd) LEON, which was designed to be able to be created in rad-hardened versions by anyone, cheaply. Intel periodically produces rad-hardened versions of their chips, but they certainly don't do it for the latest versions (the transistor density for the hardened process isn't has high as for the consumer-grade process), so you have longer upgrade cycles, and you also need rad-hardened versions of all of the support chips, so it's worth skipping a few generations if something works.

And, really, there's nothing wrong with using a 386, if it's fast enough. Upgrading from a chip that is twice as fast as you need to one that is a hundred times as fast as you need is not an easy decision to make.

The military was still buying Z80s until a few years ago for a lot of things. They had Z80 code that worked, and had been very well tested. Hopefully everyone involved in space learned from Arianne that upgrading something requires (expensive) revalidation and testing of everything that interfaces with it.

Old Tech...If it works... (2, Interesting)

WED Fan (911325) | about 4 years ago | (#33711328)

I worked on guidance and control systems for the USAF. When I got the chance to look at the shuttles inertial nav systems, I wasn't really that shocked to see they were basically the same as the systems I was working on that were designed in the '60s and modified only slightly through the '70s. The systems work, and with redundancy provide an incredibly accurate system.

Makes sense (4, Insightful)

Pojut (1027544) | about 4 years ago | (#33710702)

Given how wonky IT and communication upgrades can be, it makes sense to keep these systems the same for as long as possible. I imagine that after the Shuttle is fully and completely retired, NASA will begin to take a serious look at their aging hardware.

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710750)

If they work, why touch them - maybe someone would like to rewrite them with php?

Re:Makes sense (2, Funny)

memojuez (910304) | about 4 years ago | (#33711356)

Wouldn't that require an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of terminals?

Re:Makes sense (1)

davidbrit2 (775091) | about 4 years ago | (#33710918)

My thoughts exactly. If there's any time to prefer being pragmatic over being on the leading edge, it's when you're launching live humans into outer space. I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone in the work flow is still using an HP 41C extensively.

Re:Makes sense (4, Informative)

pinkushun (1467193) | about 4 years ago | (#33711010)

Adding that the CPU's are also custom made, along with it's embedded operating system, to withstand the operating environment. []

Re:Makes sense (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711056)

Is that extra apostrophe also custom made? That's the only explanation I can see for writing IT IS when the possessive ITS is what you need.

Re:Makes sense (1, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | about 4 years ago | (#33711016)

Given how wonky IT and communication upgrades can be, it makes sense to keep these systems the same for as long as possible.

Where we'd all be without them [] (obligatory)?

Part of the Problem (4, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | about 4 years ago | (#33710704)

It's not that simple to just update NASA's technology. Yes, a lot of NASA's computer systems are antiquated, but they've also been vetted and engineered so that all the bugs and kinks have been worked out. They can update the technology, but they'll have to go through the whole process of figuring out where all the bugs are all over again. Unlike buying a buggy desktop application, though, when NASA has a bug, lives and millions of dollars are at stake.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

Dancindan84 (1056246) | about 4 years ago | (#33710786)

Yeah, a BSOD while working on your term paper due to wonky 64-bit drivers really sucks.

Now imagine your machine was controlling part of a launch sequence for the shuttle.

Re:Part of the Problem (5, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | about 4 years ago | (#33710814)

Those "ancient" 386 chips are probably mil-spec radiation hardened chips, too. Good luck getting your 45nm quad cores to work reliably in space...

Re:Part of the Problem (2, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | about 4 years ago | (#33710870)

This is the part I always wondered about. why haven't they at least tried to have new military spec radiation hardened chips created (faster procesors, etc)? I can think of plenty of uses for that that would also coincide with the medical field, although ~400mhz can certainly handle plenty of things as needed.

Re:Part of the Problem (2, Informative)

phobos512 (766371) | about 4 years ago | (#33711622)

"Mil-spec" and "radiation hardened" are not hardly the same thing. A typical military system does not used radiation hardened parts - they're unnecessary. However, chips used in military hardware have to go through extensive proofing to ensure that there aren't sneak circuits, single point failures, etc. That costs money and takes a fair amount of time. You also need to understand that those "mil-spec" and "radiation hardened" pieces of hardware are not designed nor manufactured BY the military or the federal government - they're made by commercial entities, and it's those companies that charge "$30,000 for a hammer". It's called the ACQUISITION process for a reason.

Re:Part of the Problem (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 4 years ago | (#33711638)

They do. People are constantly making new rad-hardened chips, mostly for commercial satellites. The latest LEON (SPARCv8) chips go up to about 25MHz in the rad-hardened version. It's not just a matter of using a slightly older technology - space is an incredibly IC-hostile environment.

Re:Part of the Problem (5, Interesting)

networkBoy (774728) | about 4 years ago | (#33711654)

Largely this is a function of geometry. The smaller gates required for higher speed operation are also vastly more sensitive to imparted charge from ionizing radiation. Large slow chips are inherently more robust, so when you do things like Si on sapphire you get a lot of bang for your buck.

I don't doubt that a fast core could be RAD hardened, but the current generation of Core2 arch and ix arch from Intel/AMD/IBM are virtually impossible to make into a rad hardened build. You really would need to do a redesign with things like ECC registers and the demand for such chips is so low as to not be a profitable endeavor for any of the main players. Demand is satisfied by the RAD600/750 families (PowerPC 750 / Apple G3), so why invest gobs of money into R&D for a product that has little to no demand?

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

poetmatt (793785) | about 4 years ago | (#33711718)


Inquiring about the same, would it make any difference if it was an ARM chip?

Re:Part of the Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711706)

Physics. The smaller and faster you go, the more susceptible to radiation-induced HW bugs you are. Shielding stuff gets expensive, exponentially.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | about 4 years ago | (#33710896)

Definitely true. Plus, the more complex a system is, the more places the system has that can fail. A 386 in comparison, has much fewer points of failure.

Plus, maybe it's just me, but I think it's just inspiring that NASA was able to accomplish some of the things they've done with minimal computing power and so much finesse. The average desk calculator today has more computing power than the lunar module for the Apollo missions, and yet, Apollo still took men safely to the moon and back.

Re:Part of the Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711176)

Plus, maybe it's just me, but I think it's just inspiring that NASA was able to accomplish some of the things they've done with minimal computing power and so much finesse. The average desk calculator today has more computing power than the lunar module for the Apollo missions, and yet, Apollo still took men safely to the moon and back.

NASA was able to transport living human beings to the Moon and back to Earth using "antiquainted technology" in large part because NASA was not outsourcing to India. Today, if a moon landing was attempted for the first time, I would expect an epic failure caused by a script kiddie monitoring the flight via their web browser. "But Mr. President we saved USD100M by hiring Indian programmers", says the NASA representative during Congressional investigation.

Re:Part of the Problem (1, Flamebait)

GooberToo (74388) | about 4 years ago | (#33711644)

"But Mr. President we saved USD100M by hiring Indian programmers, which was late one year, whereby we then had to double our effort to fix all of the poor quality code resulting in an overage of roughly 2x what it would have cost to done it right and on time in the first place."

Fixed that for you.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#33710956)

Just so we're clear "mil-spec" means: runs at half speed, weights double, costs ten times as much as it should. But on the other hand, some really nice lunches get eaten during the tender process.

Re:Part of the Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711020)

costs ten times as much as it should.

Please provide your data.

Re:Part of the Problem (5, Informative)

sunking2 (521698) | about 4 years ago | (#33711174)

The last 20MHz RAD6000 flight board we bought was around $250k. A flight FPGA runs about $5k each. 10 times is actually quite an understatement for radiation hardened.

Re:Part of the Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711256)

costs ten times as much as it should.

I don't disagree that mil-spec costs more. I am asking for someone to show why the additional costs are not justified. Put a different way, what can be done to make it cheaper, without sacrificing reliability or performance?

Re:Part of the Problem (2, Insightful)

sunking2 (521698) | about 4 years ago | (#33711636)

Lack of demand, lack of suppliers, customers with big budgets.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 4 years ago | (#33711762)

When we eventually cross the singularity and cyberspace becomes self aware, it's going to be so shocked on the flimsy foundation it is built upon that it's going to spend a whole 30ms cowering in the corner crying like a emo kid.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 4 years ago | (#33711058)

Those "ancient" 386 chips are probably mil-spec radiation hardened chips, too.

What? But I thought.... my iPhone3... ummm... never mind, it's not part of the problem.

Re:Part of the Problem (4, Interesting)

crgrace (220738) | about 4 years ago | (#33711240)

Those "ancient" 386 chips are probably mil-spec radiation hardened chips, too. Good luck getting your 45nm quad cores to work reliably in space...

They certainly are mil-spec. Intersil is still doing wafer runs of Silicon-on-Sapphire rad-hard 386s at their fab in Palm Bay, FL. I got to tour the fab during a job interview. Regarding the 45nm cores, they are probably quite radiation tolerant. Smaller feature size transistors have much smaller oxide thickness so it is much, much, easier for ions caught in the oxide due to radiation to tunnel away. So, total dose ceases to be a problem. The Single-Event-Upset (SEU) becomes a big problem though because embedded RAMs are not as robust (much lower noise margins with reduced power supplies) but that is usually dealt with using redundancy and a design style that doesn't allow dynamic logic or flip-flops.

High-performance circuits *are* used in space. There is some kick-ass stuff being designed at Northrup Grumman Space Technology, for example. It just isn't used in manned missions due to the incredible liability.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#33711264)

Yes they are and all of the bugs are well known and documented.
These are embedded systems.
If you look at any complex embedded system odds are you wil find lots of z-80s, 68000, and other very old chips.
The CPU used in the ELF the RCA 1802 is still in production and being used on satellites. It is made using silicon on sapphire and is very resistant to radiation.
It is now mainly used for housekeeping but they keep using it because it works.
Also most people don't understand that for control applications a 386 is a monster.
Really it is probably several thousands times as powerful as the Apollo guidance computer.
It is also more powerful than the systems like the DEC PDP-11, Control Data Eclipse, or IBM 360.

Re:Part of the Problem (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 4 years ago | (#33711750)

Good luck getting your 45nm quad cores to work reliably in space

I was under the impression that there are a lot of laptops on the ISS running experiments.

Re:Part of the Problem (5, Interesting)

puto (533470) | about 4 years ago | (#33710874)

I forget which sci fi author it was, but there is a book where one of the main characters is hired to analyze code of a failing satelite. And he says "Perhaps the cleanest most boring software he had ever seen, virtually bug free, and what bugs there were had 3000 pages of documentation."

Antiquated and Yet Still Bearing Fruit (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 4 years ago | (#33710938)

Yes, a lot of NASA's computer systems are antiquated ...

Furthermore, I thought the United States was still a bit stymied at how the Russians managed to compete with us in space while severely lacking in the VLSI chips department [] ? There may still be some technologies, improvements and lessons to be learned from The Space Race -- especially from the side that fell apart first.

Re:Antiquated and Yet Still Bearing Fruit (2, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | about 4 years ago | (#33711252)

Yeah, but they had Sergey Korolyov [] . All we had was a washed-up Nazi who kept bitching that we wouldn't give him any Jewish slave labor.

Re:Part of the Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711612)

That is a logical argument, however, the other side of the argument is that hardware has a physical end date. Components wear out and hardware fails. This then becomes just as critical when lives and millions of dollars are at stake.

286's (3, Informative)

toygeek (473120) | about 4 years ago | (#33710708)

I'm not sure if it is still the case but for a LONG time 286 processors were the only ones available that had been hardened against cosmic radiation and were rated for space. When you're lobbing people into space, it matters most what works and is proven, not what is fastest or the newest technology.

Re:286's (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710880)

I'm not sure if it is still the case but for a LONG time 286 processors were the only Intel CPUs available that had been hardened against cosmic radiation and were rated for space. When you're lobbing people into space, it matters most what works and is proven, not what is fastest or the newest technology.

Fixed that for you.

There are rad-hardened versions of the NatSemi 320xx family of CPUs, among others, that have been used in NASA projects.

Re:286's (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 4 years ago | (#33710920)

This may or may not delight you—no where in TFA does it say what kind of CPU is used; the only product mentioned directly is VMS. Combined with the whole "space race" thing, submitter is full of shit.

Re:286's (1)

DIplomatic (1759914) | about 4 years ago | (#33711094)

I'm not sure if it is still the case but for a LONG time 286 processors were the only ones available that had been hardened against cosmic radiation and were rated for space. When you're lobbing people into space, it matters most what works and is proven, not what is fastest or the newest technology.

Yes but the other priority concern for space travel is size. Every square inch of space is critical. Space agencies must balance old-but-proven technology with newer but way smaller technology. My cell phone contains more processing power, memory, and data storage space than the entirety of 1960's era Mission Control.

Re:286's (4, Insightful)

ThatOtherGuy435 (1773144) | about 4 years ago | (#33711184)

I'm not sure if it is still the case but for a LONG time 286 processors were the only ones available that had been hardened against cosmic radiation and were rated for space. When you're lobbing people into space, it matters most what works and is proven, not what is fastest or the newest technology.

Yes but the other priority concern for space travel is size. Every square inch of space is critical. Space agencies must balance old-but-proven technology with newer but way smaller technology. My cell phone contains more processing power, memory, and data storage space than the entirety of 1960's era Mission Control.

Don't forget about heat, either. Heat dissipation in space is a pain in the ass, and throwing a few hundred extra watts of heat at every data problem is a lot less viable than it is under your desk.

Re:286's (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711580)

And one hit with an energetic cosmic ray will disable it, whereas the bigger architecture of older computers are much more resilient to space.

Best platform for the job (2, Interesting)

nzwasp (1826456) | about 4 years ago | (#33710714)

Probably the most solid platform too! theres no way i'd trust window 7 to launch a rocket into outta space!

Re:Best platform for the job (4, Funny)

toygeek (473120) | about 4 years ago | (#33710728)

I agree 100%! I'd go with something more time proven like Windows ME. They didn't call it "Millenium Edition" for nothing!

Re:Best platform for the job (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 4 years ago | (#33711330)

That's what it stood for? I always thought it was an in joke, and they knew it brought about CFS [] in computer hardware all along.

Re:Best platform for the job (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 4 years ago | (#33711700)

They didn't call it "Millenium Edition" for nothing!

It's designed for space, and as reliable as the Millennium Falcon?

Re:Best platform for the job (1)

anss123 (985305) | about 4 years ago | (#33711686)

Probably the most solid platform too! theres no way i'd trust window 7 to launch a rocket into outta space!

Windows 7 is not a RTOS (Real Time OS), so it's a poor choice for controlling the space shuttle in flight. But it's a perfectly fine for hosting the big red launch button.

The Space Race Ended in 1975 (5, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 4 years ago | (#33710718)

The Ancient Computers Powering the Space Race

From general agreement on the definition of the Space Race [] :

The Space Race was a mid-to-late twentieth century competition between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (USA) for supremacy in outer space exploration. The term refers to a specific period in human history, 1957-1975, and does not include subsequent efforts by these or other nations to explore space.

Emphasis mine. As to the 'ancient tech', it's stable and still working so what's the problem? People are bitching about rising taxes not the fact that we are stunting ourselves in exploring space. It's not 1975 anymore, people have moved on to other [] international penis/rocket/missile envy matches.

In related news, the house fails to agree on a meager NASA funding bill [] while space tourism continues to progress [] .

Old Tech != Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710724)

I will take my '68 Chevelle over your pimped out Toyota Prius any day of the week.

Re:Old Tech != Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710876)

If you can afford the fuel...

Re:Old Tech != Bad (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711376)

A '68 Chevelle, properly optioned, will get better gas mileage than most cars built today (not a Prius, but most cars). Said Chevelle will get FAR better fuel economy than any car in its (midsize) class today.

Expect a 6 cyl Chevelle to get 20% better fuel economy than a 4 cyl Camry/Accord/Taurus, and a 307 Chevelle to get 10-15% better fuel economy than a 6 cyl Camry/Accord/Taurus.

Wait a minute... (4, Funny)

axx (1000412) | about 4 years ago | (#33710774)

If the stuff in space is from the seventies, this means it's not running Free and Open Source Software ! Proprietary alert, space stuff doesn't run Linux!

Re:Wait a minute... (2, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | about 4 years ago | (#33710958)

By federal law, any product of the Federal Government cannot be copyrighted (and thus, it's probably even less encumbered in that regard than FOSS). Of course, good luck getting them to disclose it.

Re:Wait a minute... (2, Interesting)

Bobakitoo (1814374) | about 4 years ago | (#33710998) []

In 1971, when Richard Stallman started his career at MIT, he worked in a group which used free software exclusively. Even computer companies often distributed free software. Programmers were free to cooperate with each other, and often did.

Before micro-soft, software was the source code. But it is too easy to patch source code then compiled binarys, so it is more profitable to have customer unable to apply patchs and have them buy the same thing over and over every year. This "normal" state of closness didnt happen until the 80s. Thanks to Bill Gate. See []

Re:Wait a minute... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711082)

The only thing "funny" about your post is your display of ignorance.

Free and Open Source Software significantly pre-dates Linux [] and, in fact, it wasn't until the 70's that software started to become non-FOSS.

Old sometimes better than new... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710782)

Just because they're using old, outdated equipment doesn't mean that they can't do their job efficiently. I've got a 6 year old Powerbook running Ubuntu 10.04 on a PowerPC G4 and it runs just fine. I think the whole "race to the bottom" in the industry has placed even more fact in the statement "they don't make them like they used to." After all, we've got limitless power and they have limited power. It's probably more efficient to wait on a few processes to complete than have massive power failure because some astronaut tried to play Crysis on his terminal.

Re:Old sometimes better than new... (2, Insightful)

leonardluen (211265) | about 4 years ago | (#33711542)

also, Why does the Space shuttle or international space station even need that much processing power? even a 386 should be able to sample the air system a hundred times a second, while simultaneously playing solitaire. if they need processing power Nasa owns the #6, 84, 171, 172, and 221 supercomputers according to the top 500 list from june.

Nasa has no shortage of computational power. so send a reliable processor into space, then use a terminal connection down to the ground to do anything that requires any true processing power...of which nasa has more at their disposal than most of the rest of the world.

If it's not broke... (3, Insightful)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about 4 years ago | (#33710788)

Don't fuck with it.

Re:If it's not broke... (1)

Xiver (13712) | about 4 years ago | (#33710900)

Truer words have never been spoken.

Re:If it's not broke... (4, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#33711038)

See that glowing thing in front of you? The thing you're reading this on? It's just like little pictures of cats and pyramids scratched onto stone tablets, only we fixed it.

Re:If it's not broke... (1)

EDinWestLA (453682) | about 4 years ago | (#33711232)

I'd guess a few thousand years of bug fixing got us to the point where you mention us "fixing" it. Bring in convenience as a factor as well.

Re:If it's not broke... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711086)

I agree, we should all still be using stone wheels.

Those would never bre^H^H^H^H...ahm...

if it aint broke dont fix it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710790)

if the iss needed a hex core phenom with quad sli i'm sure they would get it.

I read a while ago thet for space use (4, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | about 4 years ago | (#33710810)

I read a while ago that for space use the older integrated circuits are many times more reliable. On a new high density IC a cosmic ray can knock out a connection track, whereas on older "8-bit" processors you would need thirty or forty hits in the same place.

Re:I read a while ago thet for space use (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 4 years ago | (#33711670)

nothing that some 10k pullups (on every line, data and address alike) can't fix.

or maybe 4.7k. its space; musn't take chances. don't want to make a field service call late at nite out there.

Re:I read a while ago thet for space use (3, Informative)

networkBoy (774728) | about 4 years ago | (#33711782)

It's not that it would knock out a track. A single cosmic ray hit will not ablate the metal layers. It's that the newer parts use much lower voltage to get lower leakage to get higher speed. Lower voltage == lower gate charge, in some cases the difference in charge states is < 100 electrons*. A single cosmic ray is capable of changing the charge state on these gates enough to make a bit undefined. That is a BadThing(tm).

* My info is specifically on flash and a couple years old.
0-m electrons on the gate == logic 0
n+ electrons on the gate == logic 1
between m and n electrons on the gate == undefined value.

Of course! (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | about 4 years ago | (#33710822)

Why use technology that's overpowered for the job they need? In space, low power consumption is paramount, not the ability to edit and render their "home" movies.

Re:Of course! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 4 years ago | (#33711326)

The power consumption on that stuff is probably not fantastic by modern standards. The process sizes are huge because that makes them more resistant to cosmic bit-flipping. Or rather, modern process sizes are too small by those standards, because they are less resistant. You'd probably need to have a gang of modern CPUs voting on results and then you'd lose your power consumption benefits, although I suppose it would pay dividends in reliability. Indeed, I propose that this is the best way to solve this problem in the long run for just this reason. Plus, in cases where cosmic ray activity was low, you'd be able to spin up the computing engine and do more work at once.

B-2 Stealth (5, Interesting)

tekrat (242117) | about 4 years ago | (#33710834)

And the B-2 Stealth bomber has the equivalent of an Amiga 1000 running it. What is the point of this article? Critical systems require reliable, proven, hardened hardware, not flakey netbooks.

If they are not the fastest CPUs, who cares? They aren't playing half-life on these systems they are flying space shuttles, and if you can't tell the difference, do not work in the defense or space industries. CPU speed isn't the prevailing factor here, reliablility and a known/proven system is.

Re:B-2 Stealth (5, Insightful)

OzPeter (195038) | about 4 years ago | (#33711022)

What is the point of this article?

I think the point of this article is to show the disconnect between the "oh-look-new-shiny-shiny" crowd who have to download and install their latest favorite application from nightly builds vs the "if-it-fucks-up-someone-gets-hurt" crowd who actually have a clue about reliability.

Re:B-2 Stealth (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 4 years ago | (#33711388)

I wonder how many "nines" reliability there is on a shuttle computer.

Re:B-2 Stealth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711036)

I think what is interesting is that you have a whole generation of coders coming into the field that have never used anything slower than a 1Ghz chip on a general purpose computer, is used to 500Mhz chips in their phones, running Google Maps to navigate anywhere and have no idea how hard it is to aim the cameras and other sensors on a spaceship 500 million miles away, let alone process and download that sensor data, using a CPU 1/10th as powerful as the one in their phone.

Re:B-2 Stealth (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 4 years ago | (#33711052)

And the B-2 Stealth bomber has the equivalent of an Amiga 1000 running it.

That seems like an odd example given the Amiga hardware's emphasis on graphics and sound.

Does the B-2 have a MC68k in it? Taito's Chase Bombers does, but I don't know about the B-2.

Re:B-2 Stealth (2, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#33711362)

True. People don't understand that reliability and capability need more than speed.
These are the same folks that look at an IBM Z mainframe and compare it to an over clocked i7.

Many systems need enough CPU and memory to get a single job done. Once you have that amount of power the rest of the effort goes into making sure that the job always gets done.

Ancients (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710912)

They where clever enough to build the stargates, you morons.

Nothing New Here (5, Interesting)

bkmoore (1910118) | about 4 years ago | (#33710928)

My first engineering job out of college was as an avionics engineer at McDonnell Douglas in 1996. We were designing avionics using a Highly Reliable Industrial (HRIP) M68000 CPU downclocked to a couple of MHz. The reason for this CPU choice was that it did exactly what was required for building an embedded system. Also the M68000 had/has a very long production cycle and would be around for many years to come, which is important if you need spare parts in the future. We used the minimum clock setting required to achieve the required performance and to reduce power consumption and thermal cooling requirements. Modern general-purpose desktop CPUs normally aren't good choices for single-task embedded systems because of their power consumption, short product life spans, and general feature overkill. You do not need a particularly fast CPU to perform basic guidance and control tasks or to run avionics computers. The PowerPC has been adapted for imbedded MILSPEC systems for example and it's about 10 years behind the "state of the art."

Same thing with aircraft (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | about 4 years ago | (#33710946)

Just like FTA stated the biggest issue here is reliability and certification of the instruments. While us mere earthlings can tolerate equipment failures, due to insufficiently tested software, space applications have much lower error tolerance.

I think a lot of arguments in this [] /. story apply here as well. Basically, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Assembly and C anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33710986)

Good luck to anyone trying to sell "enterprise" stacks like Oracle/Weblogic/Java or SQLserver/.NET to NASA ;-)

High-tech? (2, Insightful)

guyminuslife (1349809) | about 4 years ago | (#33711034)

When did "high-tech" become synonymous with "has a lot of transistors"?

Not surprised (5, Insightful)

JLangbridge (1613103) | about 4 years ago | (#33711044)

I'm not surprised, not at all. The A320 ELAC uses 3 68k chips, and the A320 SEC uses an 80186 and even an 8086 chip. Why? For lots of reasons. Basically, it doesn't require billions of instructions per second, it doesn't need to access gigabytes of memory, and most importantly, they are proven chips that have gone through years of testing, and they are relatively simple. At the time they were complicated, granted, but they were still within reach of severe quality control. Remember the problems Intel had with the Pentium and floating point calculations? Nothing serious, but still... The chip was so complex that problems crept into the design phase, and at 38000 feet, you do not want problems. To cite a fellow Slashdotter above, (thanks tekrat), Critical systems require reliable, proven, hardened hardware, not flakey netbooks. Enough design faults have crept into aeronautical design, so I can only imagine the space sector. NASA used to program everything in 68k because they were reliable, simple, fast enough, and because they had lots of really, really good engineers that knew every single aspect of the chips. Don't get me wrong, I love todays chips, and i7s look sexy, but with a TDP of 130W for the Extreme Edition chips, they just add problems. Running at 3.2GHz, with over a billion transistors, you are just asking for trouble. At those speeds and heat, problems do happen, the system will crash. Ok, not often, but with mission critical systems, just once is enough. Did anyone seriously expect the shuttle to run quad-cores with terabytes of RAM?

Virii (1, Interesting)

Loki_666 (824073) | about 4 years ago | (#33711068)

I very much doubt they are susceptible to virii so sounds like a smart move keeping with the old tech.

Re:Virii (3, Insightful)

gblackwo (1087063) | about 4 years ago | (#33711446)

If we had as many dedicated virus writers coding viruses specifically for NASA, as we do coding viruses for windows, this would not likely hold true. Viruses affect only systems they were DESIGNED for. On the other hand, the BSG fan in me wants to wholeheartedly agree.

In other news (5, Funny)

OzPeter (195038) | about 4 years ago | (#33711076)

My car uses 100 year old internal combustion technology.

Welcome to the soak (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 4 years ago | (#33711092)

It has been 4 + decades since the space program dominated electronics development.

Anyway, by the time any piece of electronics gets radiation hardened and goes through the "soak [] " - i.e., a few simulated years or decades worth of cycling through heat, usage, etc., plus fixing any uncovered problems, it is by definition not going to be cutting edge.

It's good that space computers are more commonplace, anyway. Viking 1 died because JPL couldn't afford to keep the people who understood the archaic assembly language for the landers in the ramped down extended mission team.

Mostly contractual (3, Informative)

sunking2 (521698) | about 4 years ago | (#33711250)

Virtually anything related to space has a huge development cycle. Contract bid to delivery is easily 5+ years. One of the first things you do is source your suppliers so you will never deliver anything state of the art. It'll be at least 5-10 years old. At pretty much the same time you have to also deliver most of your spares for the near or distant future. And there probably is no money in the contract for hardware upgrades. It is what it is until it's replaced.

While being a different problem... (2, Informative)

ScientiaPotentiaEst (1635927) | about 4 years ago | (#33711274)

... much of the flying hardware designs are decades old too - but this is IMO due to so much of it relying on govt funding or govt being a primary customer. It seems that there might be progress on this front, though - with the like of Musk, Bigelow and perhaps even Branson (suborbital now - but it's a good start). Guidance computers do not need to be terribly powerful - they need to be reliable. Witness what happened to the first Ariane 5 launch. It wasn't very long ago that the venerable COSMAC 1802 gave way in space platforms to more recent CPU/MCU designs. While quirky, it was well understood and inherently resistant to radiation upset.

audits (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711380)

So far, nobody has brought up the complexity explosion. To make modern processors really sing, requires a lot of work in the compilation phase. That means the instructions the coder writes are not straightforwardly coupled to the instructions on the hardware. If you really want to audit the software you rely on to make sure you don't "Need another seven astronauts" then code review is insufficient; you have to look at the hardware instructions too. That is another thing keeping mission critical paths on older hardware --- older hardware tends to be simpler hardware.

There is some new tech in unmanned spacecraft (4, Interesting)

crgrace (220738) | about 4 years ago | (#33711444)

While the article is quite right to highlight the proven, reliable technology in manned space missions, it is a mistake to infer that all space electronics technology used today is from the 70s and 80s. There is a vibrant design community for space electronics and a lot of quite whiz-bang stuff goes up in comms, scientific and recon sats. Someone mentioned the space industry hasn't dominated the electronics business for 40 years. That's true, but there are still niches that are absolutely dominated by space. For example, there are some incredibly high-performance millimeter-wave circuits, amazingly sensitive photodetectors and bolometers, and extremely fast Indium-Phosphide digital circuits (not full-on processors) going up in missions every year. Modern CMOS technology (deep submicron) is inherently radiation-tolerant, so rad hardening isn't as important commercially as it used to be, because there is an acceptable level of risk. Manned missions have a MUCH lower acceptable level of risk so mission planners are loathe to deploy anything new.

Safer? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 4 years ago | (#33711528)

Since the older processors and RAM were built with bigger transistors, aren't they safer, i.e. less prone to errors due to cosmic radiation?

Does autopilot systems still use 3-4 386'S? (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 4 years ago | (#33711544)

Does autopilot systems still use 3-4 386'S?

If It ain't broke (2, Interesting)

slashhax0r (579213) | about 4 years ago | (#33711548)

Don't fix it. Really, except for the aging of some discreet components why should this even be a concern. SO the tech is old? It has been well engineered and proven time and time again.

Laptops (2, Insightful)

drumcat (1659893) | about 4 years ago | (#33711554)

Man, the article makes it sound like NASA is allergic to tech. There's no reason not to bring up kick ass laptops and other non-essential tech that runs hella fast. But don't fuck with what works. It's kept a lot of NASA problems from becoming NASA disasters. Hyperbole will get you nowhere fast.

If it ain't broke... (1)

genican1 (1150855) | about 4 years ago | (#33711626)

...don't fix it!

So that proves it... (1)

nicc777 (614519) | about 4 years ago | (#33711676)

If NASA systems doesn't require more than 640KB RAM, nobody does.

A Red Herring (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711714)

What exactly would be gained by replacing all those '386s? Seems to me that the very reason the US "won" the space race was because the engineers did what was necessary but didn't waste time/money by overdoing it. Nowadays, EVERYTHING is WAY overdone, and as a result we can't get anything accomplished. Keep it simple, stupid.

If you really think about it.... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33711722)

The use of the older chips has many reasons. The items above certainly apply. One the issue of cross talk due to pervasive radiation on newer smaller die chips makes them almost unuseable and certainly not for any critical system. If you write a program to be error proof it will spend all its time correcting errors rather than processing on a newer chip. Secondly you have to consider wether the power should be in the programming or in the chip. If a chip fails you can maybe replace it, though how many times may become an issue. If a program fails it can be reinstalled. Thus the use of a more solidly built and radiation resistant archetecture combined with a program that handles more processing decisions might be safer all around. Untill we work out a way to put a forcefield around a station we will be limited severely in the level of functional current technology we can put up there. I find the concept of space as a friendly place to be at odds with the level of knowledge that we have amassed, admittedly small though it is, i think about space as a place that hates Human life and will take any tiny chance and use it to kill, it becomes easier to acceppt the lower level of technology we use up there. Needless to say, if we can move beyond electricity based computing there might be hope.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?