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NASA’s New Horizon Probe Made It to Pluto With a PlayStation CPU For a Brain

Probe suspected of playing Crash Bandicoot to pass time during 9-year journey.

PETER DOCKRILL
17 JUL 2015
 

New Horizon’s 9-year voyage across the Solar System to Pluto and beyond is the stuff scientific dreams are made of. But one of the most remarkable tidbits at the heart of NASA’s history-making endeavour is that the probe accomplished its epic feat with only a PlayStation 1 processor for a brain.

As pointed out by Alexandru Voica at tech blog Imagination, the same MIPS R3000 processor used to control New Horizon’s onboard systems once powered the first generation of Sony’s popular gaming console, which hit the market more than 20 years ago.

 

According to Voica, the MIPS R3000 CPU goes back even further than that – it was first used in workstations and servers as far back as the late 1980s. The chip on board New Horizon is a special, radiation-hardened version of the CPU, but its computational capabilities are only as powerful as the gaming console you used to play Tomb Raider on, back when Lara Croft was all chunky and polygonal. (Though still rather fetching, admittedly.)

James Vincent at The Verge says, “This isn’t unusual behaviour for NASA though, as the space agency always prefers the tried-and-tested to the cutting-edge. The next-generation Orion spacecraft, for example - the one that will hopefully take humans to Mars one day - is controlled by an IBM processor made back in 2002.”

It’s not the first time PlayStations have been used for ground-breaking scientific research, but still, we have to admit we’re blown away at what the humble PS1’s CPU has been able to achieve. MIPS R3000, we thank you for your ongoing service to humankind!

In fact, it may even go as far as to justify some of the more grandiose claims of the console’s ’90s heyday advertising…

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