Computer Science in Space

Click above to download the magazines

Mad for Mars? Obsessed with the Oort cloud? Really quite crazy about quasars?

No one could blame you.

The lure of unexplored territory is amazingly powerful. People have gone to enormous trouble to launch themselves into the unknown throughout human history. In the last century we’ve invented incredible technology dedicated to chucking ourselves out of the Earth’s atmosphere, but we’ve always been dreaming up gadgets to get us to new places. The wheel was only a start. When Charles Babbage invented his computing machines almost 200 years ago, the use he had in mind was to make navigation easier for ships. So even the rise of computers came stuck in a motherboard of mad exploration.

Computers have stayed attached to that exploration, and now we couldn’t get our glimpses into space without them. Many of our mobile gadgets and even the internet make use of space. Both astronomy and computing are about more than just their cool gadgets, though. As as often been said:

“computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”.

CS in space is about both the fantastic tech and the deep thinking that’s up there in space. It’s only 50 years after we first began to feel our way around the heavens, and now the heavens have a firm grip on our lives.

Fencing the moon

The Apollo lunar modules that landed on the moon were guided by a complex mixture of computer program control and human control. One problem was the need to shut off the engines just before touching down. The problem was solved with a cunning (if simple sensor) contraption (read on)

If the Beagle had landed

The Beagle 2 mars probe disappeared as it got to Mars. On board was a work of Art by Damian Hirst and music by Blur. But what happened to them? (read on)

Core rope memory

COMING SOON Weaving, in the form of the Jacquard loom, inspired Charles Babbage. He intended to use the same kind of punch card to store programs in his Analytical Engine, which had it been built would have been the first computer. However, weaving had a much more direct use in computing history. Weaving helped get us to the moon … (read on).

COMING SOON Make your own core rope memory storing your name or some secret message, as a bracelet or just to hang as a decoration … (read on)

This page was funded by UKRI, through grant EP/W033615/1.