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The First Moon Landing Was Achieved With Less Computing Power Than a Calculator

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Newly restored Apollo Mission Control Room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Many people who are old enough to have experienced the first moon landing will vividly remember what it was like watching Neil Armstrong utter his famous quote: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Half a century later, the event is still one of the top achievements of humankind. Despite the rapid technological advances since then, astronauts haven’t actually been back to the moon since 1972.

This seems surprising. After all, when we reflect on this historic event, it is often said that we now have more computing power in our pocket than the computer aboard Apollo 11 did. But is that true? And, if so, how much more powerful are our phones?

On board Apollo 11 was a computer called the Apollo Guidance Computer. It had 2,048 words of memory that could be used to store “temporary results”—data that is lost when there is no power. This type of memory is referred to as RAM (random access memory). Each word comprised 16 binary digits (bits), with a bit being a zero or a one. This means that the Apollo computer had 32,768 bits of RAM memory.

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Thanks !

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