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The computer that made the launch to the moon possible

  It just so happens that we celebrate two interrelated events about a week apart: 40 years since the first IBM mainframe computer and 35 years since the moon landing, which was made possible, among other things, by that computer


IBM computer during the Apollo operation
IBM computer during the Apollo operation

An IBM-360 computer that was used by NASA in the Apollo program in the XNUMXs. Today's personal computer is dozens of times more powerful than the mainframe computer of the sixties

Among the 40 trivia questions asked on the 40th anniversary of IBM's first mainframe - the 360 ​​series as it was then called - was an interesting question - in which major program in the sixties did this computer play a central role. The correct answer was the Apollo project, in which the first man was placed on the moon.

Indeed, Neil Armstrong's small step, which was also a big step for humanity, was also a big step for BMW. This is a huge achievement because the mainframe computers of that time, each of which MIPS cost one and a half million dollars, and whose processing capacity was much smaller than today's personal computer (the memory volume is measured in tens of kilobytes, which the CEO of the Electric Company, Dr. Yaakov Razon, compared at the event to a Word file one page) managed to hold what is still considered one of the greatest technological projects of the last century.
IBM invested no less than today's 5 billion dollars in the development of the mainframe architecture. Before there were dedicated computers for scientific calculations and dedicated computers for economic and commercial calculations. The difference between the two is null and void.
NASA could afford to replace its old calculators with a central computer, and yet, those computers failed once, on Apollo 13. The journey home was very long, and the spacecraft's engines still had to be turned on manually at a critical point, when the astronauts had to determine the direction to the earth by means of a telescope observation of the exact position of the sun and the moon at a given moment. The astronauts landed safely in the Pacific Ocean.
And if we were already talking about the moon, 24 billion dollars were invested in the Apollo project in the 10s, in today's amounts, mainly because of inflation which nevertheless cut the strength of the dollar, it is at least XNUMX times more.
The problem with trying to justify the financial expenses of Apollo 11 with the help of the accompanying products is that many of them have become so completely ingrained in our lives that we often ignore them. For example satellite communication. No one thinks twice when watching a news report from the desert in Africa, after which they change the channel and watch a game on Sky network and finally call a friend in Australia to tell him the results of the game. And yet, such activity is a direct result of the American desire to be the first on the moon.
So are more reliable weather forecasts, made possible thanks to 24-hour satellite monitoring of the Earth's atmosphere. With early warning of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, countless lives have been saved.
And above all, the computers. Until the space race, the typical computer took up the volume of an entire room. NASA's requirement for a computer small enough to be sent into space, which triggers the invention of the microchip technology that exists today in everything, from handheld computers to mobile phones with cameras and a thermometer (in the case of the model presented this week by Cellcom that also allows PUSH TO TALK). Without the impetus of the space race, many of these technologies would have taken significantly longer to develop, as scientists would never have received so much government funding so quickly. These by-products covered the Apollo expenses and more, by creating entire industries whose connection to the space program was completely forgotten.
It is precisely the smaller things, in human terms, that remain in the memory. The eagerness of the scientists to monitor the physical condition of the astronauts while fulfilling their mission, led to the development of lightweight sensors, which can be found on the bodies of patients in hospitals. Pacemakers that can be recharged and programmed without further surgery are also a direct result of a byproduct of the space program in the field of microelectronics and telemetry. Not only did the US-Russian race to the moon lead to useful by-products. Preventing the wheels from locking during braking, ABS, and the airbags are two inventions based on a deceleration sensor, originally developed for the European space program.
And what about the future? In the controversial article cited at the ceremony by Matrix CEO Muti Gutman from 1974, its authors predict that the operating systems and mainframe computers will be so powerful that they will allow something very similar to the Internet but on an intergalactic level (although it is possible that when moving between universes there will be a slowdown, but IBM also working on increasing the speed of light, predicted in the article). Well, the computers are really powerful but the direction is a bit different, instead of intergalactic internet they run heavy ERP applications. Not even IBM is able to overcome the speed of light, and it is a fact that every command to vehicles on Mars takes at least 20 minutes and every command to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn takes over an hour and a half.
So really congratulations to BMW, which developed a computer that survived more than surviving companies, and which helped it survive especially after the crises it went through in the last decade and we hope that NASA will also return to what it was in the sixties and not the battered, outdated and confused agency of today.

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