Ruggedness and durability in particular
Conventional wisdom would imply that before sending a robot to conquer another world, you would want to equip it with the new and most sophisticated technologies possible to exploit its potential. As it turned out, that was not NASA’s highest priority.
As the space agency’s Mars Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet surface last month, it did so with an updated PowerPC 750 processor on board. If you note, it’s the same chip that came with Apple’s famous iMac G3 back in 1998.
Why is the rover sporting a CPU that’s over two decades old? And it’s got to work, that’s why.
The processor inside the Perseverance Rover is a RAD750, a radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC 750 developed by BAE Systems. It packs just 10.4 million transistors and runs at up to 200MHz. Critically, it can tolerate up to one million rads of radiation and operating temperatures between-55C and 125C.
Since the atmosphere of Mars is different from what is seen here on Earth and farther away from the Sun, everything sent to the planet is vulnerable to radiation exposure and high temperatures.
The RAD750 is also an established artist, having been successfully used in more than 150 spacecraft including the Kepler space telescope and the Curiosity rover.