When the perseverance of NASA guided on the surface of Mars on February 18, it did it with the help of the same processor that powered the 1998 iMac G3. You know, the colorful and bulbous all-in-one office that saved Apple’s business and helped it grow into the company it is today. According to New scientist (via Gizmodo), From NASA last rover presents an offshoot of the PowerPC 750 processor. This processor is approximately 23 years old in 2021.
By modern standards, the PowerPC 750 is nothing fancy. It is a single-core processor with around 6 million transistors and a clock speed of 233 MHz. Compare that to Apple’s recent announcement M1 chipset, which has 16 billion transistors and a maximum clock speed of 3.2 GHz and you are talking about a very modest processor in the PowerPC 750. But the speed (or lack thereof) is not the reason why the NASA accepted it.
You see, NASA has a thing for proven technology. For example, in 2006 the agency equipped its New Horizons probe with a Mongoose-V processor, a radiation-hardened version of PlayStation’s original MIPS R3000 processor.
And when you send a $ 2.4 billion rover one-way to a planet 38.6 million kilometers closest to Earth, you need a processor that is, above all, reliable. And that’s exactly what the PowerPC 750 has shown itself time and time again. The RAD750 variant of the PowerPC 750 that is inside Perseverance has been hardened to withstand 200,000 to 1,000,000 Rads and temperatures between -55 and 125 degrees Celsius (-67 and 257 degrees Fahrenheit). The RAD750 is currently in about 100 satellites orbiting the Earth. All are still working.