What do outer space and gaming have in common? Well, apparently more than just “Alien: Isolation.” The Verge revealed that NASA’s New Horizons probe (which sounds eerily like “Event Horizon”), is powered by a MIPS R3000 CPU, the same processor used in Sony’s Playstation 1. Yes, you read that correctly, the PS1. Not the Playstation 2, 3, or 4. The same CPU that breathed life into classics like “Resident Evil,” and “Metal Gear Solid,” is allowing NASA to perform a flyby of Pulto. Bet you never thought while you were chugging Surge and munching on Nacho Cheesier Doritos that one day the then state-or-the-art processor would be boldly going.
First poor Pluto was kicked out of the planet party, and now scientests are begging Pluto to once again join the cool kids table. While the seasoned CPU in the New Horizons probe might seem hilarious, particularly because of its claim to fame powering the PS1, it’s a proven part. NASA opts for stability over change, and probably for good reason. Upgrade the CPU in your gaming rig and if there’s an error, you can troubleshoot fairly easily. A NASA probe is the epitome of mission critical. Better to change as little as possible. Why mess with a good thing?
The MIPS R3000 isn’t the only gaming tech NASA has adopted. Marc Hamilton, VP of Solutions Architecture and Engineering at NVIDIA, offers some neat insight on his blog. Marc’s posts reach beyond just benchmarking in “The Witcher 3,” and explore some fascinating applications of NVIDIA hardware. An entry from January 2014 looked at the Georgia Tech professor Jon Roger’s work on a CUDA-powered unmanned aircraft, a NASA-supported initiative. An April 2015 article explored several NASA uses of NVIDIA GPUs, ranging from up-to-the-minute weather reporting to pilot control displays in the SpaceX Dragon v2.
Clearly there’s a strong connection between hardware and NASA, which should come as no surprise. Like gamers, NASA is concerned with performance. However, unlike their gaming counterparts, the NASA folks aren’t as concerned with constant hardware upgrades.