US Space Shuttle runs on 1MB of RAM and 80’s technology…still

by: Bradley Wint on March 30th, 2010 at 4:30 pm


If you were flying into out-of-space, you would expect to travel in a space shuttle powered by tons of fancy and modern computers to ensure a safe journey to and from space. You may assume that the system would have tons of RAM, hard drive space, a superfast processor and much more. However the current space shuttle being used actually only run of 1MB of RAM. The computer’s technological framework is based on models from the 1980’s with a few recent upgrades added.

With no fancy GUI such as that included in Windows 7 or MAC OS X Leopard, the totally UNIX-based system that is command driven, does not require a ton of temporary memory space or a fast processor to monitor data from its sensors, or manage systems controls. Even though the entire code may look very complex, it was made to run on that 1980’s processing system, and still does today. Unlike a regular computer, the programs don’t have to be updated to match today’s needs, since there are no new needs really. It’s been basically the same series of launch events 30 years ago and that has allowed them to work with the older system.

But why not upgrade anyway? Cost and risk are two main reasons for working with the current system. Considering NASA’s tight budget, they would have to spend lots of time and lots of money testing those systems time and time again to ensure a shuttle take of is near fail-safe. Installing and upgrading the software and hardware basically puts them back into a place where they have to rebuild their knowledge base about how the system operates and there would be significant risk of some failure along the line.


Have Something To Say? 12 Others Did!

  • Devon – March 31st, 2010 – 3:21 PM

    Hey this just affirms the saying if ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’

  • yojim – March 31st, 2010 – 3:35 PM

    if they did upgrade there crap what new stuff would they even get out of it?

  • valentine – March 31st, 2010 – 5:48 PM

    seriously, if it’s not broken, why fix it? adding new tech would require huge amounts of testing, bet adding a windows vista interface would crash the space shuttle instantly xD

  • Nick – March 31st, 2010 – 7:37 PM

    LOL Valentine that is funny. I heard that NASA is paying money for peoples old 8086 computers.

  • hjkyjsrtj – March 31st, 2010 – 8:14 PM

    there gonna have to upgrade sometime right???

    • Shenaniganz – April 1st, 2010 – 12:23 PM

      not really, the remaining shuttles shelf lives are nearly up. NASA’s been in the market for their next fleet for years now. Originaly each shuttle was only designed for 30 some trips.

  • Gregero – March 31st, 2010 – 8:55 PM

    We have lift off…


  • Wayne – April 1st, 2010 – 12:17 AM

    This just shows how dead the space program is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it doesn’t apply to the billions we spend each month on weapon research and new spie planes. Yet the next frontier is treated like a stray dog that is thrown scraps by pedestrians. No wonder people are expecting the end of the world soon, 2012, because we have lost what makes us human, our sense of adventure and exploration.

  • No one – April 1st, 2010 – 3:28 AM

    wayne, i second that. Im not even American, but imagine what can we achieve if it uses current processing power and speed. excuses such as safety and rigorous test is valid, but if the program is stuck on an old tech, things u see in Battlestar Galactica are not goin to happen.

  • Johnno – April 1st, 2010 – 4:54 AM

    I’m sure they’ll upgrade if they ever build a new space shuttle from scratch. If the old one is doing fine then there’s no reason to fix it.

    Better engineering and aerospace rocket technology is of far more relevance than the OS if they want to build a new one. That’s not something that gets updated because computer chips get faster. It’s a whole different science.

  • Adam – April 1st, 2010 – 11:27 AM

    Remember also people, that the Space Shuttle was retired a couple years ago. They are phasing it out so it also wouldn’t make any sense in that perspective to keep building it up.

    I’m sure what replaces the Shuttle is in the testing phases as we speak on many areas of it. And I’m sure the equipment and software will be much more sophisticated.

  • Tril – April 1st, 2010 – 4:27 PM

    You have to consider power consumption too. A 8086 processor chip burns 0.0025W in standby mode, compared to my desktop Q6600 chip which burns 38W in standby. That is 15,200 times the power usage for standby. You can go on much longer missions if your power demands are low – there isn’t a socket to plug into in space. Read up on Apollo 13 and see how much just a fraction of a watt meant to that crew.

    Once the old shuttles are scrapped, I’m sure the newer models will get a boost, but I wouldn’t expect them to be running anything comparing to the average household. Power consumption is still a big factor.