It comes as no surprise that the guidance computers aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft were impossibly primitive compared to the pocket computers we all carry around 50 years later. But on his website, an Apple developer analysed the tech specs even further and found that even something as simple as a modern USB charger is packed with more processing power.
Forrest Heller, a software developer who formerly worked on Occipital’s Structure 3D scanner accessory for mobile devices, but who now works for Apple, broke down the numbers when it comes to the processing power, memory, and storage capacity of Google’s 18W Pixel charger, Huawei’s 40W SuperCharge, the Anker PowerPort Atom PD 2 charger, and the Apollo 11 guidance computer, also referred to as the AGC.
It’s not easy to directly compare those modern devices with the 50-year-old AGC, which was custom developed by NASA for controlling and automating the guidance and navigation systems aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft. In a time when computers were the size of giant rooms, the AGC was contained in a box just a few feet in length because it was one of the first computers to be made with integrated circuits.
Instead of plopping in an off the shelf processor, NASA’s engineers designed and built the AGC with somewhere around 5,600 electronic gates that were capable of performing nearly 40,000 simple mathematical calculations every second. While we measure processor speeds in gigahertz these days, the AGC chugged along at 1.024 MHz.
By comparison, the Anker PowerPort Atom PD 2 USB-C charger includes a Cypress CYPD4225 processor running at 48 MHz with the twice the RAM of the AGC, and almost twice the storage space for software instructions. There would be some challenges when it comes to making all of the software powering the Apollo 11 spacecraft work on modern equipment, but on his site, Heller lays out the case for why he believes that just four of Anker’s USB chargers could have potentially helped take astronauts to the moon and back.
However, going to space is not exactly a smooth ride. A rocket blasting off the pad is a much different experience to flooring the gas pedal in a finely tuned sports car. Astronauts, and the equipment that took them to space, were not only subjected to intense G-forces (Apollo 11’s top speed was over 24,000 miles per hour (38,624 km/h) as it orbited the Earth before heading to the moon) but leaving Earth’s orbit also exposes them to radiation and other challenges not experienced back on the ground. In other words, while a modern USB charger might have more processing power than Apollo 11’s guidance computers, it’s doubtful they could survive that trip.