Auctioneer puts Space Shuttle CPUs under the hammer

IBM kit made 20 journeys into space, now selling for surprisingly down-to-Earth prices


Boston-based auction house RR Auction currently has an out of this world item up for bid: IBM computers collectively used aboard twenty Space Shuttle missions.

Between 1981 and 1991, NASA used computers with separate CPU and IOP (input/output processor) components. The CPU and IOP on offer saw the insides of the Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis shuttles, including four missions they flew together. In 1991, two-piece general purpose computers (GPCs) became obsolete and NASA upgraded to single units.

The kit on offer appears to be an IBM model AP-101, a device that NASA historians rate as capable of handling "up to 2,048 microinstructions, 48 bits in length."

As IBM tells it, the machines "used the basic instruction set architecture from IBM's mainframe System/360" and could process 480,000 instructions per second.

Space Shuttle General Purpose Computer

The AO101 units. Click to enlarge

Thanks to modifications made after the loss of Challenger in 1986, the manufacturing date on the units is 1988. The CPU counter indicates it has given up 4,104 hours of operating time and comes with a "flown hardware" tag. The IOP hours meter is covered with silver tape. Both have inspection seals indicating that they are complete and intact.

Both have IBM/Rockwell tags and circular ports on their backs to connect to airducts.

The systems were one of five pairs in the Space Shuttle Orbiter – four operated in sync and the other used to run backup software.

RR Auctions points out that at the time the units flew, they were the brains of the most technologically advanced spacecraft to ever take flight.

Of course, the 10" x 7.5" x 22.5" (25.4cm x 19cm x 57cm) units look a little quaint these days – but that hasn’t stopped them from attracting almost $10,000 in bids at time of writing. The auctioneer expects that to top $50,000 by time the auction ends on April 22.

The auction house has sold other space type stuff before, including a watch worn by Commander Dave Scott on the Moon during the Apollo 15 lunar landing. That item went for over $1.5 million in October of 2015.

A rare lunar meteorite went for $612,500 in 2018.

And as for the value of obsolete vintage tech, consider that a functioning Apple 1 Computer from 1976 sold for $375,000 in September 2018.

In November, another auction house, John Moran Auctioneers, sold a super-rare wooden Apple 1 for $500,000. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022