Call it, PowerPC: Klaatu Edition
When NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander blasts off from Cape Canaveral on Saturday, it will be carrying a radiation hardened RAD6000 computer from BAE Systems based on IBM's Power Architecture microprocessors.
The RAD6000 is the brains of the Phoenix, and will process navigational data and drive other key systems as the ship makes the 423 million mile journey to Earth's closest neighbor.
The mission "may answer that age-old question: Could life exist on Mars," said Raj Desai, VP for IBM's global engineering solutions group.
Answering that question will depend in part on the RAD6000's ability to survive in a ship that will be exposed to 200-degree temperatures and storms with winds in excess of 80 miles per hour. IBM says its Power chips are "space qualified" based on their ability to withstand extreme conditions.
NASA is spending $420 million to launch the Phoenix, which is scheduled to lift off aboard a Delta II rocket from Florida's east coast at dawn Saturday. After launch, the spacecraft will extend its solar arrays so it can begin collecting energy from the sun that will help power its onboard systems.
When it reaches Mars, the Phoenix will land on the planet's north pole, where it will dig into the frozen surface and begin searching for evidence of amino acids and other building blocks of life.
The Phoenix mission is another proof point for IBM's Power Architecture. The chips are used in all three major video-game consoles from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. They're also used in half of all automobile models worldwide, and 60% of the world's fastest computers, according to IBM.