NASA: Back to the Future

Every time a space shuttle launch is impending, I like to regale friends with the story of NASA’s hunt for the high-tech computer components — nowadays found only on eBay — that make sure the shuttle doesn’t turn into a flying funeral pyre for the astronauts on board. The name of the sophisticated processor unit that monitors the booster rockets is the Intel 8086. As the Daily Telegraph reported four years ago:

One recent success for the Nasa salvage teams was the acquisition of outdated medical monitoring equipment being dumped by hospitals. Nasa needed the units’ Intel 8086 computer chips which are almost identical to the those that powered IBM’s first personal computer in 1981.

That same year, when the first shuttle blasted into space, the Intel 8086 played a crucial role in the diagnostic equipment that told Mission Control the twin booster rockets were safe for launch. Today, booster monitoring still relies on 8086 chips.

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7 thoughts on “NASA: Back to the Future

  1. Brian Rapp July 3, 2006 / 1:09 am

    Yet another reason why the system needs to be scrapped. If they’re going to shoot men into space to look after elementary school science projects, then they need to go back to capsules or design a new shuttle. They already tried once in the late 90s, but the program was scrapped because of costs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VentureStar

    The real future lies in more radical engine technology (in the long run at least). The X-43 program highlights this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-43
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-51

    Now, just for the record, this is the first time in YEARS I’ve looked up military stuff (since college actually). So Dan, you cannot accuse me of reverting back to being a neoconservative adventurer who at one point drew up invasion plans for China. No sir, you may not 🙂

  2. Casey Khan July 3, 2006 / 2:10 pm

    FYI, there are nuclear power plants that have this same salvaging problem. I know of one that uses the Commodore 64 as part of its failsafe mechanism. Chernyobal doesn’t seem so far off.

  3. Daniel McCarthy July 3, 2006 / 8:28 pm

    Now I wish my family had kept the Commodore Vic 20 we had when I was a young ‘un. We could probably get a few hundred grand from NASA or the Department of Energy for that one. Why, it even had a cassette drive — a cartridge drive, too.

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  5. Interesting Facts November 10, 2009 / 5:59 am

    wow great , nice facts about the future in nasa
    thanks for sharing

  6. PathFinder July 12, 2010 / 7:17 pm

    Russian for now produce(?), sells analogious IC – KR1810VM86.
    Same architecture and command set.
    Very low cost – aproximaitly $2.5 (80 RUR)

  7. PathFinder July 12, 2010 / 7:22 pm

    Also easily may find IP core for FPGA (commercial and GPL). And… it’s a very funny situation.) I decide, before reading this article, what only we use old microcontroller’s architecture like i960..

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