How NASA landed a Mac on Mars using MacBook Pros

“Now that Apple has successfully landed on Mars, I think it’s time the company moved forward its plans to build a resort on the moon,” Mark Webster reports for The New Zealand Herald.

“OK, as you may realise, Apple didn’t strictly land on Mars – not at all. No, that’s a ridiculous statement,” Webster reports. “The truth is, NASA landed a Mac on Mars by using MacBook Pros.”

Webster reports, “So the credit actually goes to the official US space program – it just happens to have excellent taste in computers. Obviously, despite its considerable expertise and knowledge, NASA hasn’t realised that Macs are ‘just fashion accessories,’ as some commenters on Mac Planet repeatedly assert… As an insightful redditor noted, ‘Curiosity is essentially a 2-CPU Power Macintosh G3 with some nifty peripherals and one hell of a UPS.’ It’s also running an OS akin to that on the iPod (not iPhone).”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Rick” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity essentially has same brain as Apple’s Bondi Blue iMac G3 – August 6, 2012
NASA control room packed with Apple Macs during Mars Curiosity rover landing – August 6, 2012


  1. Uh, no. When NASA shows slides of the Mars Curiosity Rover, you can clearly see that they were done on MS PowerPoint running Windows. A lot of NASA engineers use Macs but the administrators are still stuck on Windows, just like NASA main contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

    1. That explains why despite all the great ideas NASA scientist and engineers have, NASA administrators can’t seem to plan their way out of a brown paper bag.

    2. At least there was no Comic Sans on those PPT, like with those Higgs Boson scientists. (Actually it was one person responsible; her reason for using the font was, “she likes it”. )

      1. Serious question: Why is there such hatred of Comic Sans? While it’s not one of my favorite fonts, it certainly doesn’t seem so bad that it warrants so much negativity.

        In fact, I don’t event notice it when it does pop up on the web or elsewhere. Maybe my ancient eyes just aren’t as discriminating as you younger folks’ but still.

        1. I read a great article on this topic just a few days ago. Forget the link, but was at the NYT website if I’m not mistaken. It has been empirically proven that fonts convey believability of the words written. In the experiment it was determined that a statement printed Baskerville was measurably more believable by readers than when set in Comic Sans. No gravitas. Comic Sans is fine for text meant for lite entertainment, like, say…a comic, but for the announcement of perhaps the most notable discovery in Physics during the past half century? A real mis-use. Typography matters, folks!

    1. Far, far less than they wasted on health, medicare, and the military.

      2012 military/defense budget: $1 to $1.4 TRILLION requested
      2012 various medicare/aid/health: over $1 trillion
      2012 NASA budget: $18 billion ($0.018 trillion)
      Mars Curiosity mission: $2.5 billion over the last 8 years.

      1. I don’t see how money spent keeping citizens healthy is “wasted”.

        It would argue that money spent bailing out banks “too big to fail” is wasted.

        And money spent on science is NOT a waste. That soda you just bought, now thats waste..

        1. I should’ve put “wasted” in quotes in my first line, since I don’t actually think any of them are wastes of money in and of themselves. I was responding to patranus’ ludicrous notion that NASA or the Curiosity mission is wasted money by comparing NASA’s entire budget to the big budget monsters.

          To take that thought further: any system will have inefficiencies, red tape, etc that can be considered waste. Even if a mere 1-2% of these budgets are wasted, this means the military and health waste more in one year than NASA’s entire budget.

          Per this article: “[A] 2003 Dartmouth Medical School study found that up to 30 percent of the $2 trillion spent in this country on medical care each year—including what’s spent on Medicare and Medicaid—is wasted”. So I was lowballing the health budget, and extremely optimistic on percentage that was waste.

    2. Actually, the board in Curiosity is a radiation-hardened PPC variant called a RAD750.

      An iPod wouldn’t last that long on a world with Mars’ temperature extremes or with the exposure to electromagnetic radiation that comes from the planet not having a magnetosphere, which is why Mars no longer has an atmosphere.

      Sure if someone wants to create a hardened version of the ARM’s Cortex-A9 reference design and can convince Apple that it should license whatever modifications it made to the reference you would have part of an iPod, but NASA’s software platform on Curiosity (and indeed many of its projects) is VxWorks which is a real-time embedded OS. VxWorks can run on ARM-based technology.

      Before you insult VxWorks, be aware it’s responsible for powering an Airport Extreme so Apple quite like it.

      1. Good ones, guys. I actually figure that iif it ran W8 it would have poked out Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and created a massive Blue Spot of Death. {sorry, some of the other remarks have me still giggling!]

  2. Beyond a Power PC ISA the powermac G3 has nothing in common with curiosity.

    I don’t recall apple shipping BAE RAD750 cpus in any Mac. VxWorks is nothing like iOS as it is all plain Jane C based on the Erlang model.

    1. Gotta agree with you. This is a bit of stretch except to point out that NASA typically uses electronics that have been in use for a decade or so. This is more a matter of the development time that goes into these projects, plus a very conservative attitude that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    1. Not untold. $2.5 billion. Over 8 years. Including launch rocket and an extremely complex, fully-autonomous landing system.

      And your typical 2006 digital camera’s electronics would’ve been fried by interstellar radiation long before it got to Mars. Even if it had been shielded during transit, after it landed ON Mars it would fry without serious protection, since 100x more radiation reaches its surface compared to Earth.

  3. ‘Curiosity is essentially a 2-CPU Power Macintosh G3 with some nifty peripherals and one hell of a UPS.’ It’s also running an OS akin to that on the iPod (not iPhone).”

    A Mac G3. That’s circa 1997 – 1999. We were still using floppy disks back then. How US federal government of NASA! Yesterday’s technology, today! Geez. Let’s review what’s posted at Wikipedia:

    Power Macintosh G3 @Wikipedia

    The Power Macintosh G3 was originally intended to be a midrange series, between the low-end Performa/LC models and the six-PCI slot Power Macintosh 9600. It is the earliest Old World ROM Macintosh model officially able to boot into Mac OS X, and one of only two Old World ROM models able to boot into Mac OS X, the other model being the early PowerBook G3.

    This is the state of the art at NASA? 🙄

    1. It took them, what, 8 years to fully develop this? If they kept switching the hardware they were using to the latest and greatest mid-development (given the rate at which technology changes),, the development time would compound in such a way that they would literally never finish it.

  4. Youve got a handful of people crying about how expensive the mission is (it isn’t) and another handful crying that it’s repurposed old tech (ie: less expensive)

    You all have a woeful misunderstanding of what’s going on.

    This thing was in conception stages back when G3s were in Macs. They can’t keep redesigning the tech every time a faster processor comes out, as these things take a decade to conceive and build.

    As far as the camera goes: it’s not really there to take pretty pics. That’s just PR stuff. Also: see previous paragraph as it applies here as well. Curiosity can shoot a rock with a laser and have an onboard telescope analyze the chemical composition of said rock just from the spark the laser generates, and you’re bemoaning a 2MP camera…


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