50 years ago this week, the first humans walked on the moon.
We know the stories of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. They were the poster boys of the first Apollo landing. But we hear less about the technology that put a man on the moon, and the influence it has on our lives today.
To achieve their mission NASA invested in a new type of technology. The integrated circuit, or as we know it today, the microchip. In the 1960s microchips were the latest cutting-edge technology. So much so that NASA bought 60% of all the microchips produced in the US in 1963 just to support Apollo.
Some of those chips were used in the Apollo Guidance Computer, a machine with, what seemed at the time, a staggering 2,000 bytes of memory.
By comparison, today a single minute of an HD movie requires 50 million bytes of memory – 25,000 times as much as the tech that steered Apollo 11 all the way to the moon. The memory of a new iPhone XS is 4,000,000,000 bytes – that’s 2 million times as much as the computer that steered astronauts to the moon.
As they travelled across space the astronauts were connected to mission control and home by a tiny radio thread spanning 250,000 miles. That thread carried communications and data, critical to the safety and success of the Apollo mission.
But despite all this incredible technology, the Apollo 11 landing nearly failed at the very last minute. As Armstrong and Aldrin readied themselves for the landing, they lost contact with Mission control – the Apollo equivalent of a dropped call or a streamed movie that buffers at that critical moment.
And the whole journey was shared live, across the world. That thread that carried critical communications and data was also stretched to its very limits to carry TV pictures. It reached from the moon into hundreds of millions of homes around the world. Parents in the UK woke their children in the middle of the night to watch those famous grainy pictures of the first small steps on the moon. No one wanted to miss out on seeing that moment of history.
When NASA set out to their plans go to the moon in 1961 they could never have envisaged how much technology would advance by 1969. In the last 50 years our computers have transformed beyond all recognition, with no signs that the pace of change will slow down any time soon.
They have gone from the stuff of science fiction and the space race to tiny but powerful devices that we carry around with us every day. We use them for shopping, for working, for entertainment and communication, sometimes all at the same time. Grainy pictures have made way for HD, and now 4K. And when the technology works well, it helps us to do more – gives us more time to do what we want, more opportunity to explore new things, more freedom to choose how we live our lives.
That’s why we at Zzoomm are investing in building a new kind of digital thread for our new, modern world. A digital thread that can carry the equivalent of a thousand million Apollo Guidance Computers at once to every home and business. A full fibre digital thread that not only does what you need for today but will also meet what you need for the future, whatever that future brings. A digital thread that lets you do more. Just like NASA did in July 1969.