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One recent success for the Nasa salvage teams was the acquisition of outdated medical monitoring equipment being dumped by hospitals.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.