At the heart of Curiosity there is, of course, a computer. In this case the Mars rover is powered by a RAD750, a single-board computer (motherboard, RAM, ROM, and CPU) produced by BAE. The RAD750 has been on the market for more than 10 years, and it’s currently one of the most popular on-board computers for spacecraft. In Curiosity’s case, the CPU is a PowerPC 750 (PowerPC G3 in Mac nomenclature) clocked at around 200MHz — which might seem slow, but it’s still hundreds of times faster than, say, the Apollo Guidance Computer used in the first Moon landings. Also on the motherboard are 256MB of DRAM, and 2GB of flash storage — which will be used to store video and scientific data before transmission to Earth. Sebastian Anthony
So basically last year’s smartphone (given the right software) could control the spacecraft and guide it through the atmospheric entry procedure without breaking a sweat. Really puts into perspective how much some technologies, in this case computing, have evolved, while in other areas, like propulsion, space exploration remains stuck in the middle of the 20th century. With cheap propulsion and a light-weight launch system there could be an entire fleet of smartphones zipping around the solar system, orbiting all the major planets, landing on the moons, keeping tabs on near-Earth asteroids and doing deep-space interferometry. And probably so much more.