Rosetta's journey to intercept a comet took 4 billion miles and 10 years. When it left Earth, there was no iPhone, no YouTube, no GoPro. The camera now beaming back exclusive comet photos? It has 1/1000 of the storage capacity of a modern USB stick.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which is charge of Rosetta's science activities, today released a new set of photos taken by the Philae probe as it descended toward the comet. But acquiring photos becomes a tad more complicated when you have a very limited amount of memory. Remember, taking into account the time to plan and design a 10-year journey, we're talking 90s-era technology here.
"When the camera was developed 20 years ago, memory cards did not exist," the DLR's Stefano Mottola said. "ROLIS therefore has a limited amount of memory – just 16 megabytes, which is one thousandth of the amount of data that can be stored on today's USB sticks."
We did, after all, land on the moon using a computer not much more powerful than a graphing calculator. But Rosetta—and every long-term space mission, really—has to rely on technology that will be obsolete by launch time, much less after years of space travel. Engineers still had to design every component, pack it up for a 10 year journey through space, and hope that it worked. And for the most part, it did, which is the most impressive part. [German Aerospace Center]