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The latest USB-C chargers are apparently more powerful than Apollo 11’s computer

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Fly me to the Moon, and let me... charge... among the stars

Image: Anker

Over the past decade, it’s become commonplace to try to put the progress of technology into perspective by pointing out that most people’s smartphones are more powerful than the guidance computer that took Apollo 11 to the Moon in 1969. Now, however, we might have a new milestone to measure ourselves against after Apple developer Forrest Heller has convincingly argued that even a modern USB-C charger has more processing power than the spacecraft’s guidance computer.

Making a direct comparison between the two machines isn’t easy because NASA’s 1969 computer works very differently than a modern device. But here are the basic specs: the Apollo 11 Moon landing guidance computer had a clock speed of just 1.024 MHz compared to 48 MHz for the ARM Cortex-M0 CPU in the Anker PowerPort Atom PD 2 that Heller used for his comparison. It has around 4KB of RAM compared with 8KB for Anker’s charger, and 72KB of storage compared to 128KB of flash memory in the modern accessory.

In total, Heller reckons the modern charger is 563 times faster than the Apollo 11 computer, can store 1.78 times more instructions, and has a little over twice the amount of RAM. You’ll need to check out his full blog post for the nitty-gritty details since it’s filled with the kinds of math that convinced me to become a technology journalist rather than a programmer.

Despite the power disparity, Heller still thinks you’d need four chargers to replace the four separate computers on board Apollo 11, and he also admits that there might be other factors that would prevent a USB-C charger from flying a spaceship.

In a statement, Anker admitted that its chargers probably aren’t ready to go to the moon just yet, but teased that they have left the earth’s atmosphere at some point the past. “We cannot say where or when but we can say with authority that our chargers have made it to space,” the company told The Verge in a statement.

There’s also the question of peripherals, with Heller noting that it’s unclear how many the Apollo 11 guidance computer supported. I know the USB-C ecosystem is getting better, but I’m not sure we’re at the point where a charger could fly a spaceship.

Regardless, it’s a fun thought experiment that highlights a couple of different things. First is obviously the sheer amount of progress technology has made over the past half-century, but more important are the amazing feats that are still achievable on modest hardware.

Update February 12th, 4:45AM ET: Updated with response from Anker.