The electronic brain controlling NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has far less horsepower than the microchips typically found in a modern smart phone.
But the RAD750 PowerPC microprocessor built into the rover's redundant flight computers has one enormous advantage: It was engineered to be virtually impervious to high-energy cosmic rays that would quickly cripple an iPhone or laptop computer.
The radiation-hardened single-card computers, built by BAE Systems in Manassas, Va., are designed to withstand charged ions and protons in interplanetary space or on the surface of Mars that can physically damage integrated circuits or trigger so-called "bit flips" in which the logic of the computer can be temporarily, or even permanently, disrupted.
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