A computer from NASA’s historic Apollo program, which flew onboard the Apollo spacecraft during its trip to the Moon, has been reprogrammed to mine bitcoin.
From Moon to Mining
The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was one of several technological breakthroughs for its time that allowed NASA to send a manned mission into space. The AGC provided guidance, navigation and onboard control for the Apollo flights to the moon, and was one of the first computers to use integrated circuits.
The Apollo Guidance Computer navigated to the moon, but can it mine Bitcoin? I tried it on our working AGC; at 10.3 seconds per hash, it would take a billion times the age of the universe to mine a block. Still faster than mining by hand or punch cards.https://t.co/uGXfDYWAHd pic.twitter.com/6bLpOzAhqK— Ken Shirriff (@kenshirriff) July 8, 2019
Ken Shirriff, a member of a group of computer historians, published his experience restoring the AGC in a series of posts, including his attempt to have the machine mine bitcoin.
Despite coming from a time when the average computer could fill most of a room, Shirriff says the AGC is under a cubic foot in size and weighs less than 70 pounds.
According to Shirriff, their model of the Apollo Guidance Computer is the world’s only working AGC. He explained his motivation for writing mining code on the antiquated device,
“Trying to mine Bitcoin on this 1960s computer seemed both pointless and anachronistic, so I had to give it a shot. Implementing the Bitcoin hash algorithm in assembly code on this 15-bit computer was challenging, but I got it to work.”
Waiting on Rewards
While the AGC may have been a tour-de-force in the 1960’s which propelled mankind into space, the device, unsurprisingly, does not hold up to modern crypto mining standards.
“Unfortunately, the computer is so slow that it would take about a million times the age of the universe to successfully mine a Bitcoin block”
Shirriff used an example of a $70 USB stick bitcoin miner, which produces more than 130 billion hashes per second, to explain the difference between the AGC and today’s technology,
“To put the AGC's mining performance in perspective, a USB stick miner performs 130 billion hashes per second. The stick miner costs under $70, compared to $150,000 for the Apollo Guidance Computer... The enormous difference in performance is due to the exponential increase in computer speed described by Moore's law as well as the advantage of custom Bitcoin mining hardware.”
While Shirriff won’t be earning mining rewards for his effort, he was able to continue his interest of mining bitcoin in “absurd” ways. The computer historian has previously used an IBM punch card mainframe computer to mine btc, in addition to a 1973 Xerox Alto.