Today, July 16, 2019, is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the mission that took humanity Moon for the first time. It was that morning of July 16, 1969 what Neil Armstrong, Buzz aldrin and Michael Collins boarded the Apollo 11 four days later to reach (the first two) the lunar soil.
Obviously, the world (and the United States in particular) is celebrating the milestone with enthusiasm. It's one of the coolest ways to remember the date by comparing the computing power of Apollo 11 machines with a small device you have in your pocket today.
That's exactly what computer science professor Graham Kendall of Nottingham University did in an article to The Conversation. The scholar compared the amount of RAM and ROM of the Apollo Guidance Computer, the computer that guided the first manned mission to land on the moon, with that of a iPhone XS by 2019 and the results, as expected, are jaw-dropping.
The Apollo 11 computer had 32,768 bits of RAM, which is enough to store (unformatted) text of about 2,000 words, which is equivalent to about four articles like the one you are reading. The iPhone XS, with 4GB of RAM (or 34,359,738,368 bits), is about 1 million times more memory than the Apollo Guidance Computer.
Things get even more impressive compared to ROM: the mission's onboard computer had only 72KB of read-only memory. A 512GB XS iPhone, in turn, has 7 million times more memory of its kind.
In terms of processing power, the magazine ZME Science has an even cooler comparison and taking into account the iPhone XS but the iPhone 6. According to the calculations of the article, that smartphone's A8 chip is capable of processing about 3.36 billion instructions per second, which means that it is about 120 million times faster that the computer that guided humanity Moon for the first time.
Obviously, we are comparing technologies five decades apart, which is nothing more than an astonishing exercise. Still, it's nice to imagine how NASA professionals were able to organize such an ambitious mission with a technological power that, compared to today, was almost nil but was, at the time, the last word in computing.
In this sense, the article by The Conversation It has a very nice section wondering what would change and what would remain the same if the Apollo 11 mission was accomplished in 2019, not in 1969. According to Kendall, the development of software for the ship's computer would be much faster than the machines. To test, compile and run the required code is only millions of times more powerful.
Another important change would be in the user interface: instead of the calculator look, with buttons and numeric commands, we will probably have interactive commands on a touch screen or from an even more advanced perspective a holographic interface, controlled by gestures or eye movement. Well, Iron Man, right?
Interestingly, one aspect that would not have changed at all compared to 1969 would be the communication between Apollo 11 and Earth after all, no one has yet discovered a way to transmit data at a higher speed of light. Because today's images have much higher resolution (and size), photos of the moon would take much longer to arrive, but at least they would be much more flashy.
Cool, isn't it?
via Cult of Mac