The New Horizons probe that flew to Pluto might be able to make calls to the edge of the solar system, but it wouldn’t be a very good for browsing social media or running any of your apps.
The original iPhone was figuratively launched into stores in 2007 while the New Horizons space probe was literally launched into space in 2006. Though the “launch dates” of both the probe and the original iPhone weren’t that far apart, it turns out that the $US600 iPhone way overpowers the $US700 million NASA space probe.
According to the Imagination Technologies blog (the company that made the chips inside the New Horizons space probe), the processor (CPU) used in the probe is inferior to the CPU inside the original iPhone.
The New Horizon’s Synova Mongoose-V CPU runs at an incredibly slow 12 MHz. That means the processor can technically handle 12 digital instructions per second. That would barely run any apps at all, as today’s apps require thousands of instructions per second to work.
The original iPhone had a 412 MHz CPU, which is much faster than the New Horizon’s CPU.
However, we should point out that the Mongoose-V CPU wouldn’t have been that bad when work began on the New Horizons probe in the 1990s. In fact, the consumer version of that very same CPU, called the MIPS R3000, was used in the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2! It’s almost identical, save for the radiation-hardening that prevents damage from the harsh conditions in space.
Even if new and better processors became available, NASA couldn’t just upgrade processors because it would mean they would need to start from scratch so that all the probe’s systems are compatible with the new processor. They needed to stick with that they started with.
Interestingly enough, all those gorgeous pictures of Pluto and its moons that the probe sent back to Earth were taken with a 1-megapixel camera. The original iPhone’s camera had 2 megapixels.
Of course, it’s safe to assume that the camera in the New Horizon’s probe was so good that megapixel count doesn’t matter as much.
Despite the lesser specs, NASA’s New Horizons probe left Earth’s orbit to plow through 2 billion miles of space at 36,373 miles-per-hour to help answer millions of burning questions we have about the last body in our solar system, Pluto, by beaming photos 2 billion miles back to Earth.
All that on one one battery charge, which, albeit, is made of radioactive plutonium and much better (and more expensive) than the lithium-ion batteries our smartphones. Still, NASA has 82 years to go until it gets the dreaded “low battery, plug in your space probe” alert.
And what did we do with the first generation iPhone? It answered some of our own burning questions…at the pub trivia night. Oh, and it can make calls to anyone…on Earth. Lame.
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