Modern smartphones boast vastly greater computing power than Apollo computers, yet it would be unfair to compare them directly, like comparing F-35 fighter jets with World War 2 Spitfires and Hurricanes.
The Apollo computer excelled at one task very effectively. Additionally, it was virtually crashproof compared to smartphones which can occasionally freeze.
How Did They Get There?
First moon landing required eight years, 10 practice missions and many people, plus US taxpayer spending of about PS150bn today in today’s currency – not bad for something President Kennedy famously described as being “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind”.
That extraordinary step forward was enabled by a combination of technologies. Most famously, this included the rocket that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from Earth to the Moon – taking two and a half days, they spent less than four hours there!
Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC), was an incredibly pivotal technology. The AGC controlled all aspects of the mission from launch to landing and back again using its 15-bit CPU with plated wire cores to provide radiation hardened operation; different display modes and alphabet; astronauts fed commands through punch cards into it – yet this incredible machine still achieved incredible feats despite its limited resources.
To land Eagle on the Moon, AGC used its descent engine. This changed their orbit from circular to an elliptical one, moving closer towards lunar surface and leading them toward Sea of Tranquility. Computer simulations proved that landing could still proceed smoothly.
As they neared their landing site, Armstrong and Aldrin set up several scientific experiments. Additionally, they collected soil and rock samples as well as took photographs before returning to the LM for their return trip back home.
At first, many believed an iPhone had more computing power than an Apollo Ground Control computer (AGC), but today a 512GB iPhone would boast over seven million times as much RAM and ROM (read/write) memory as its Apollo-era equivalent. If converted to wattage units, a modern smartphone is about 100 billion times more powerful.
The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC)
Astronauts needed a way to navigate from Earth to the moon and back, and this task fell to something called an Apollo Guidance Computer or AGC.
AGC was an incredible feat of technology at its time, successfully navigating space, freeing itself from Earth’s gravitational pull and landing on the Moon. As the first digital general-purpose interactive portable computer ever constructed, without it this mission would likely have failed.
The AGC was an engineering masterpiece, but it had its drawbacks. For example, its CPU ran at just 0.043 MHz — meaning that it ran around 120 million times slower than Apple’s most advanced smartphone.
To keep its system operational, the AGC required some creative solutions in order to avoid “crashing.” For instance, its system was programmed to allocate energy and attention based on each program’s importance – this helped astronauts focus their energies on prioritizing tasks during emergencies and save precious time when using less important programs.
One of the amazing capabilities of the AGC was its ability to communicate with other computers aboard spacecraft – this was essential in ensuring mission success and safety. Telemetry units allowed it to send and receive data while also showing it on displays and keyboards so astronauts could stay aware of their positions.
Furthermore, the AGC could receive data from ground control centers and transmit it over radio links back to them – this data was crucial for navigation purposes as well as helping crew members monitor engine performance, battery health and more.
Aside from its CPU speed, the AGC had limited RAM and ROM (read-only memory). For comparison, an iPhone typically offers 4GB of RAM and 72KB of ROM — more than a million times more than what was offered on AGC.
Apple’s iPhone launched as a revolutionary mobile device in 2007. Combining an iPod music and video player, mobile phone, Internet communication device and sealed batteries into one sleek handheld unit with touch-screen interface was unprecedented at that time; first to utilize sealed batteries and run its own proprietary operating system that could be controlled software rather than hardware – it quickly became a hit, with Apple later producing multiple iterations with improved technology and features.
Apple engineers were diligent in their effort to ensure the success of the iPhone. They wanted to avoid cannibalizing sales of iPod, which had already transformed digital music, as well as outcompeting Nokia, which held a dominant share of mobile phone market at that time. Finally, they needed to develop something accessible to mass markets while still being simple for people to comprehend.
The iPhone was notable for its touchscreen interface, which allowed users to control it with their fingers rather than typing on a small keyboard. Additionally, this phone featured built-in digital cameras and Internet browsers as well as support for iTunes music downloads and third-party services such as Youtube.
Due to its incredible popularity, the iPhone quickly rose to become the dominant smartphone in the United States. Its design and technologies inspired competitors; while consumer culture was transformed by this phone. Communication became a daily habit; work/life boundaries blurred; new rules about when/how use was appropriate developed based on this newfound freedom from traditional telephone companies.
iPhone has also become an important driver of social media and communication between people. Some effects may be beneficial, such as keeping all communications together in one convenient place; however, it has also contributed to an increase in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among children as well as shorter attention spans.
An iPhone requires enormous quantities of natural resources in its production process. Components are assembled at factories owned by Foxconn, while final assembly usually occurs in China or Japan. While Apple does not publish a list of parts used, iFixit and other repair companies provide detailed breakdowns.