Retrotechtacular: Amiga Pips PC for Critical Computing at NASA


In 1986, a group of NASA engineers faced tough choices in solving data processing problems. Continue to tolerate the degradation in performance of your PC architecture or raise funds for exotic workstations. Paradoxically, Commodore Amiga, ironically, it didn’t cost enough .. Oh, and Apple didn’t want nothing to do with it.

NASA’s history-steeped Hangar AE is a hub for launch rocket telemetry and other mission communications, primarily prior to its launch at Cape Canaveral. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Hangar AE supported NASA rockets of all shapes and sizes, from the evolution of the Atlas-Centaur to the mighty Titan family. It also supported user data from the Space Shuttle program. Telemetry from these missions was processed by Hangar AE and sent worldwide to other participating space agencies before being sent to other NASA Boffins.

Born out of decades of astronomical funding, the 1980s were all about the belt, and NASA needed a budget solution that didn’t compromise the safety of its mission. The Commodore Amiga turned out to be the right choice for handling launch rocket telemetry. And it was only then that the Amiga Atlanta group’s cameras were allowed to film inside Hangar AE.

The video below was shot in 1998, more than 10 years after the first Amiga computer was installed on Hangar AE. It’s fascinating (and not surprising) to hear that the Apple Macintosh is the number one choice for computer hardware. However, because it was a closed system, engineers could not access the Macintosh to the required level and could not develop the custom hardware needed to support operations. In contrast, Commodore was prepared to send an enormous amount of documentation to NASA to help them. How nice!

Gary Jones, then NASA’s senior systems engineer, continues that Amiga was an unpopular choice for his employer. “They want us to buy a PC and run Windows 95 and NT. They try to tell them it’s not fast enough, so they buy DEC Alpha. I tell them to buy. They are told it is too expensive. They don’t like Amiga. It doesn’t cost enough. “Wow.

The video will take place during a mission to STS-89 and the Mir space station. Some seems to have been lost over time, older blog posts fill in some knowledge gaps.

In other words, there is a jingle that says, “Only Amiga makes it possible.”

[Thanks to JohnU for this great retro computing tip!]

[Pictures from Amiga Atlanta/Mike Ellenberg]

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