The Mars Curiosity Rover is Basically a PowerMac G3 with Wheels

Aug 11, 2012 - 12 Comments

Mars Curiosity Rover is a PowerMac G3 on wheels

We already knew that NASA used a lot of Macs during the Mars Curiosity landing event, but hardcore Mac geeks will be interested to know the Rover itself is running on both hardware and software that Apple used not only in consumer Macs of yesteryear, but that Apple still uses today!

In fact, the setup is so familiar that ExtremeTech calls the Mars Curiosity Rover “an Apple Airport Extreme… with wheels”, but for those who have been using Macs long enough, they’ll notice the Rover is basically like a PowerMac G3 from the late 90’s. These are some of the more interesting technical specs of the Curiosity Rover:

  • PowerPC 750 CPU running at 200Mhz, known as the G3 by Mac users
  • 256MB of RAM
  • 2GB flash storage (SSD)
  • 17 1600×1200 (2-megapixel) cameras
  • VxWorks operating system, which also powers the Apple Extreme Wireless routers

There are also plenty of lasers, detectors, and other technical instruments on board, but that’s branching away from the side familiar to Apple fans. If you’re looking for some particularly geeky weekend reading, don’t miss ExtremeTech’s article on Rover’s technical side, it’s good stuff.

So, the Mars Rover, it’s basically a Mac on wheels! How cool is that? Quite a Mac setup if I’ve seen one, can’t beat Mars!


Related articles:

Posted by: William Pearson in Fun, Mac, Mac Setups


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  1. Scott says:

    I note that nothing is lost with this ‘old’ technology. The photos are of EXCEPTIONAL quality and the rover doesn’t have to do a wide variety of things. All of what it needs to do it can do with the processing power and storage that was designed in to it.

  2. Jim K. says:

    Hearing this story over and over again (Apollo, the Space Shuttle, Casini-Huygens, etc.) one does begin to wonder if in designing these missions that take 5-10 years to execute the hardware up to launch time, if there couldn’t be a little more parallelism in the design tracks, fixing the parameters of things like processing power, storage, transmission bandwidth (and transmitter power), cam and other instrument resolution within the package constraints, but later in the process, and still with time to evaluate the component’s soundness and stability.

  3. MAx agnelli says: Is a Unix Like OS, not OSX, please…

    • Dan says:

      FYI, we know the PowerPC chip is an IBM one. IBM made them, Apple used them, just as it uses Intel chips today. And on one even mentioned OSX anywhere in the article. VxWorks is the OS for the Airport Extreme routers. RTFA.

    • vdiv says:

      But, but, but…. it is the same color! ;)

  4. Anonymous says:

    You’re seriously telling me we landed a million dollar PIECE OF SH*T on Mars? Are you kidding? My old laptop is more powerful than this!

    • Theo Vosse says:

      Once the design on a machine like this is completed, it is very, VERY expensive to go back and change it, especially when many other components depend on it. So why do that, when you’ve got something that works properly? This is just good engineering, very good, as a matter of fact.

      Not to insult you, but a team of engineers that replaces components just because a faster CPU is available would have turned this mission into a huge failure.

    • Svenborgia says:

      NASA is underfunded because your politicians would rather spend public money on warmongering than advancing the nation. Maybe you should complain to your government if you are not satisfied?

    • Kevin B. says:


      Actually, it was 2.5 billion dollars. The design was basically “frozen” back in 2004. That’s why, for example, the cameras are only 2 MP. You can’t cram the “latest and greatest” untested hardware in a vehicle like this at the last minute. Imagine, for example, that they had decided to stuff the latest Intel CPU into this thing and then, when the rover was halfway, to Mars, discovered that it had a bug comparable to the famous P3 bug.

      What I’m seriously telling you is that if you want to see a piece of crap then you should see what a rover designed by people who post anonymous comments in Internet forums looks like… ;-)

      Kevin B.

  5. I hope NASA’s control software is laden with stitched leather.

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