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ATPM 6.04
April 2000



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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Deep Space Mac

Have you ever stopped to think about space exploration?

Although some of us may think the money we spend studying the cosmos could be better spent helping the poor or working towards a cure for cancer, the scientific advances made by the space program have helped us a great deal here on Earth. Perhaps you have heard about a little life-saving process called magnetic resonance imaging? Portable telephones, even?

Yes, even the venerable TANG breakfast drink got a boost from space exploration.

All of these items, and thousands more like them, have been created, improved, or modified to survive the extreme conditions involved in loading them on top of a rocket and shooting them into the most extreme conditions known to man. Progression of technology has generally gone in one direction—from NASA, to the public. Recently, however, there has been a change in the direction of this flow.

In late 1999, as NASA was preparing to launch the Space Shuttle on a mission to repair the Hubble Telescope, serious concerns were raised. Launch attempt after launch attempt was scrubbed due to various mechanical failures. Failures due, perhaps, to the mileage the shuttle fleet has been put through over the years. One oil change every six thousand miles won’t cut it anymore, guys!

Other than the deteriorating state of the shuttle fleet, there was concern about the aging software that controls the shuttle’s systems. Long ago, when the space shuttle was still on the drawing board, the software that controls the millions of functions that have to happen on a typical shuttle mission was written. Sure, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, this software was state-of-the-art, but the times have changed.

During the intervening 25 years, processor power and hardware sophistication have increased exponentially. Although the software has so far performed admirably, NASA officials have begun looking for something equally as powerful as we start to enter a new millennium.

Yup, according to rumors, NASA is going Apple.

Let me begin by telling you how I came by this information. One of my good friends from my college days is an employee with the Jet Propulsion Laboratories. His duties at JPL involve the ground guidance package of the Hubble Space Telescope. We have kept in touch since graduation, and, every so often, I give him a call just to make sure the telescope hasn’t crashed or anything strange like that.

The last time I called him, though, he seemed pretty excited about something. Now, I’m not the type who likes to call California to talk work, but I had to ask just what the heck was going on. He wasn’t quite sure, but he thought he overheard some folks in their software division talking about a major overhaul for the space shuttle fleet which involved Apple Computer.

Recognizing an opportunity to get the story which could lead to a paid position with a computer industry magazine, I began to make a number of phone calls. The Public Information Department at JPL didn’t know much about this, but I wasn’t one to be easily deterred. My next calls to NASA initially didn’t pan out; however, once I was forwarded to the Shuttle Operations Division, things started to become pretty apparent.

Due to the Federal Government tightening the budget on space exploration, NASA officials are going to have to economize. New reusable spacecraft system programs on the drawing board are being put on hold, so NASA is going to have to get more mileage out of the existing fleet.

To that end, there is going to be an extensive overhaul program. Long-time problem components, such as fuel flow valves (recently helped in aborting their fair share of launch attempts) are going to be replaced with new, efficient components which should drastically reduce the number of aborted launch attempts. This will also save money, as it costs millions of dollars each time a mission is scrubbed late into the countdown.

While these improvements will reduce the number of mechanical failures, other, more drastic overhauls are being planned.

First, the aging computer hardware in the shuttles will be stripped out and replaced with brand new G4’s. NASA is looking for the beefiest components they can get their hands on while holding the line on expenditures—and the G4 fits the bill nicely.

Seeing as NASA is going with the Motorola processor, they have hired a private consulting firm to completely rewrite the ageing software to run on Mac OS 9. The belief is that this combination of hardware and software will greatly improve how well the shuttle will perform, cutting unnecessarily aborted liftoffs by two thirds.

Of course, one question which begs to be asked is “Why Apple?” With all of the other powerful, modern operating systems, chips and software out there, what made NASA go with Macintosh?

“Ease of use,” said Roger Macisgreat from NASA’s Computer Operations Division. “Why would we want our astronauts to waste valuable time in orbit trying to reconfigure .ini files when they should be conducting their experiments or resting? When it comes down to it Apple truly has the superior software, plus the Motorola G4 chip allows us to bring supercomputing into orbit. I believe the taxpayers will appreciate this move.”

So the next time you watch a shuttle launch on TV, or look into the deep, dark night to catch a glimpse of the shuttle as it soars through the sky, you can feel proud to know that it is powered by a Mac.

applecore“Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac user” is copyright © 2000 Tom Iovino,

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Reader Comments (3)

Dennis Wilkins · April 3, 2000 - 01:01 EST #1
A complete 100 April Fool Issue? What a waste of time and energy. Back to kindergarden with he bunch of you,
Michael Tsai (ATPM Staff) · April 3, 2000 - 01:01 EST #2
Most of the issue is in fact normal. The April Fools' Day articles are marked with apple cores instead of our normal blue apples. We'll be happy to offer full refunds to readers who didn't find them funny.
Tom Iovino (ATPM Staff) · April 3, 2000 - 01:01 EST #3
Kindergarten! YES! Bring on the paste!

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