Mars Rovers use radiation-hardened PowerPC chip used in some Macs

“The computer in each Mars Exploration Rover runs with a 32-bit Rad 6000 microporcessor, a radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC chip used in some models of Macintosh computers, operating at a speed of 20 million instructions per second. Onboard memory includes 128 megabytes of random access memory, augmented by 256 megabytes of flash memory and smaller amounts of non-volatile memory, which allows the system to retain data even without power,” NASA explains in its January 2004 “Mars Exploration Rover Landings” press kit here(pdf).

[MacDailyNews Note: are you still avoiding pdf files online? Why not view pdf files right in Safari for free by using Manfred Schubert’s free PDF Browser Plugin for Mac OS X; it displays Quartz compatible PDF documents within web browsers, including Apple’s Safari.]

More information on the Mars Rovers here.


  1. For the record…
    The RAD6000 is based upon the single chip version of the original POWER (Performance Optimized With Enhanced RISC) chipset. It is not based upon any version of the PowerPC.

    There are follow on versions which are based upon the PowerPC chips. The RAD6000 is not one of them.

    This article is either wrong in stating it is a RAD6000 (which has been around since the mid 90s which is the original design era of the current Mars missions) or it is wrong in stating that it is a PowerPC variant (which may have been substituted later in the design phase to cut power requirements).

  2. There’s got to be some joke about 128MB of RAM (“eMacs…in…space…!”) but I can’t think of one.

    Did anyone notice that there seemed to be more than a few PowerBooks in Mission Control on the day of the landing. I was watching NASA TV and saw quite a few. And, though I never saw it clearly, it looked like there was some Mac OS X window on one of the big screens. I noticed what looked like the Red-Yellow-Green control boxes on the top-left of the window, but I couldn’t tell what application they were using. It might have been when they were showing the project management chart.

  3. “I think NASA are pro mac.”

    As are most academics and those with above average intelligence.

    I guess if the world was populated by smarter people, Apple would have a larger market share than 5%. ;o)

  4. The scientists are pro Mac, but unsurprisingly, not the management.

    A few may recall that back in ’97, there was a great Mac purge initiated by Microsoft-loving CIO Jack Garman. Lots of scientists were up in arms telling him that they were more productive with Macs. True to form, Jack Garman ignored the users and went ahead with the purge. It even made it to the congress, IIRC. Who needs scientists when you can have CIOs, right?

    For those who don’t know Jack Garman, he decided to standardize NASA’s email system when Exchange was still in beta (great idea, standardizing on beta software). He was asked by Microsoft to beta test it. Talk about a conflic of interest.

    By the way, congrats to NASA scientists and engineers for Mars landing!!

  5. I am a science journalist and space artist, and I attended the landing of Spirit. There were, indeed, many powerbooks on hand at JPL. Macs are popular in the sciences. I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology a couple years ago, and it looked like a Mac convention! Many paleontologists presented powerpoint lectures through apple products. (They are, after all, brainy people!)

  6. I just encountered this thread (over a year after it was current) but I thought I could shed some light on the topic.

    The RAD6000 is based on the POWER architecture which preceded the PowerPC architecture. The PowerPC 601 chip, the first PowerPC chip used by Apple, was designed as a transition platform between the two architectures. It is more POWER than PowerPC.

    So NO Mac uses the RAD6000 or RS6000 chipset. However the first generation of PowerPC Macs used the PowerPC 601, the architecture of which is binary compatible (with a only few instructions that don’t overlap) with the RAD6000.

    Yes the rovers use RAD6000s. Many space missions do. So the article has some facts right and some wrong. Oh well.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.