Did You Know? The Space Shuttle Runs On Only One Megabyte Of RAM!

It’s true! NASA’s space shuttle is controlled by a computer running on only one megabyte of RAM. How is this possible? Since the space shuttle and all its hardware is over 30 years old, so is its computer. The current computer is actually an upgraded version of the 500-kilobyte computer that was used until 1991, but still based on the same outdated technology from the 1980s.

NASA Space Shuttle Launch

So how does the computer process all those complex calculations with only one megabyte of RAM? Well, the shuttle, unlike the average modern computer, doesn’t need a complex graphical user interface and all the fancy programs and games we use. All it does is process the raw data it gets from all the sensors and coordinate the shuttle’s functions, in a simple UNIX-like environment. True, all those calculations are complex, but they do not require a more powerful computer than they already have.

Still, why weren’t the old computers replaced with newer ones? As the popular saying goes, don’t repair what’s not broken. If new computer systems were to be installed, they would require massive testing until they were nearly 100% fail-proof. You wouldn’t want to get a “Blue Screen Of Death” in the middle of a launch, would you? And during the past 30 years the computer system performed nearly-flawlessly. Another reason would be NASA’s budget constraints. Why spend money on something that’s working well anyways, instead of doing something useful in space?

Similarly, the Russian Soyuz capsule’s computer ran on only 6 kilobytes of RAM until it was replaced with newer systems in 2003, which most probably was the cause of its subsequent crash-landing in Kazakhstan.

If newer space launch technology is going to replace the space shuttle when it is decommissioned at the end of this year, perhaps it would include more recent computer systems, since they would have to design the whole thing from scratch anyway.

NASA Space Shuttle Before Launch

Images Credits: NASA