Saturday, April 26, 2008

Your old notebook alone is an overkill to send man to the moon

Remember Apollo 11? Apollo 11 took men to the moon and back safely.

There were some computers on the rocket, the command module and the lunar module, vintage perhaps, but still capable computing power to take men to the moon and back no less.

Working on the Apollo program were about 10,000 or more people: NASA employees and contractors. There were also a number of mainframe computers supporting the program, and to let all those 10,000 interact. In those days, there were no personal computers. Maybe a few leading edge engineers had electronic calculators. Nevertheless, they still sent men to the moon and back with all the stuff they had.

Freely call any electronics that is capable of holding some charge RAM.  Call anything that is capable of doing some work on a clock cycle computing power.  Now, if you add up all the computing power in all the electronics, all the mainframes and whatever computers that were used, in mission control, launch control, the command module, the lunar module, all the calculators, et cetera, the total amount of computing power, RAM and disk storage respectively would add up to less than what your grandmother has in her Celeron PC that she uses to browse the Internet.

What does it all mean? Detractors would say, "Oh, that was 1969." Wrong, very wrong! The crux is that your grandmother's Celeron PC can single-handedly control all the processes to send men to the moon and back. This is not a hypothesis. This is not a theory. It has happened.

Extrapolating from this experience, it would mean that with today's computing facilities, the accumulated knowledge and lessons learned, it would be possible to make another lunar mission using a fraction of the original workforce in a fraction of six years at a fraction of the original cost.  The distance to the moon has not grown any longer nor the environment harsher.

What went wrong?

Next time you feel your PC is a bit sluggish, remember this story.

And if a CIO or computer salesman says that you need a more powerful server, either he is ignorant or has some ulterior motive.

2015 update: A quote from Ray Kurzweil: "A kid in Africa with a smartphone is walking around with a trillion dollars of computation circa 1970"