The two of us are old enough to remember the thrill of seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in the summer of 1969. Many things have changed since then, and incredible progress has been made in some areas. As we reflect back on our own experience, and try to match today's world to 1969, we decided to compare the amount of computation available to NASA engineers then versus what's available now.
The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) on board the lunar module (LM) executed instructions at a speed of about 40 KHz (or 0.00004 GHz), about 100,000 times slower than a high-end laptop today. There was also a similar real-time computer built into the Saturn V rocket. On the ground, NASA had access to some of the most powerful computers of the day: five IBM model 360/75 mainframe computers, each about 250 times faster than the AGC. They were running nearly 24/7, calculating lift-off data and orbits, monitoring biomedical data during the mission, and performing numerous other calculations.
We compared that to what Google does today, and we found that:
It takes about the same amount of computing to answer one Google Search query as all the computing done -- in flight and on the ground -- for the entire Apollo program!
When you enter a single query in the Google search box, or just speak it to your phone, you set in motion as much computing as it took to send Neil Armstrong and eleven other astronauts to the moon. Not just the actual flights, but all the computing done throughout the planning and execution of the 11-year, 17 mission Apollo program. That’s how much computing has advanced. It is easy to take this for granted, but this computing power helps make the world a better place and opens the door for amazing things to come.