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Apple's holiday camp on the moon

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Photo / AP
Photo / AP

Now that Apple has successfully landed on Mars, I think it's time the company moved forward its plans to build a resort on the moon.

OK, as you may realise, Apple didn't strictly land on Mars - not at all. No, that's a ridiculous statement. The truth is, NASA landed a Mac on Mars by using MacBook Pros. So the credit actually goes to the official US space program - it just happens to have excellent taste in computers. Obviously, despite its considerable expertise and knowledge, NASA hasn't realised that Macs are 'just fashion accessories', as some commenters on Mac Planet repeatedly assert.

The computer NASA put into the Curiosity rover for the successful Mars landing was the equivalent to a Bondi iMac of over a decade ago. The rover runs on a RAD750 radiation-hardened single board computer which is, in turn, based on the IBM PowerPC 750 CPU, which Intel first introduced on November 10, 1997. This CPU was used by Apple in many computers in the late 1990s, including the original iMac.

As an insightful redditor noted, "Curiosity is essentially a 2-CPU Power Macintosh G3 with some nifty peripherals and one hell of a UPS." It's also running an OS akin to that on the iPod (not iPhone).

Actually, Apple Macs have long been popular with NASA types. Mel Martin at TUAW talked to a retired Jet Propulsion Lab engineer who was using Macs on his desk all the way back in the days of the Macintosh SE (mid-to-late 1980s). He said people, including him, started bringing their own Macs into work and soon they were almost standard issue at the JPL, which falls under NASA's administrative and funding jurisdiction and which was behind the Mars landing. When OS X came out there was the added advantage of an OS that was UNIX based. The Pentium floating point division error in the 1990s was also considered a factor in the adoption of Macs at JPL. PowerPC Mac workstations back then didn't suffer from the arithmetic flaw in the Pentium CPU, and Intel's initial response was lukewarm, and didn't go down well with people who might be risking multimillion-dollar interplanetary probes "on the Nth decimal place of a calculation."

When the Mars rover was landed this August, you probably noticed that glowing white Apple logo everywhere on the desks of the jubilant scientists and technicians. And if you didn't, Mac fans sure did.

And Apple has no plans to build a moonbase. That I know of. As I've said before, Tim Cook lives modestly by Silicon Valley mogul standards - he'd probably be just as happy with a comfortable little satellite. But as I asserted a year or so ago, Apple probably could build a moonbase if it wanted to. And you have to admit, it would look great. Considered a dry run for Mars, there is actually little scientific reason to build a moonbase apart from clear-sky observatories and assorted scientific laboratories. Or perhaps as a big Apple billboard for those approaching Earth. A permanent habitat is completely unnecessary. Although you have to admit all that low-gravity jumping about would be fun, and rich people would go just like they go off to the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica: because they can. It's another way for them to flaunt. Just look at them queuing up for private space flights. And whereas I would cheerfully volunteer to fire some of these people off into space myself (honestly, there should be a lottery for pushing the launch button), it's highly unlikely Apple would be in the least bit interested in building a moonbase. Silly.

It's just an analogy for Apple's cash reserves (as you've no doubt worked out by now). The International Space Station has cost around US $100 billion so far; NASA's yearly budget is around US$20 billion.

An estimate by the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the cost of establishing a modest four-person station on the moon at US$35 billion, including the development of a lunar lander, but not the rocket to take it there. But you know, Apple could chummy up with Virgin's Branston for that. Thirty-five billion seems low to me, but Apple already had over US$110 billion in the bank by this year in April. That would probably suffice.

And as impractical and pointless as a moonbase seems, some agencies are actively considering it. Russia's space agency Roscosmos has publicly confirmed plans to create a permanent habitation on the Moon. In a talk at the Global Space Exploration Conference, Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin said "we're not talking about repeating what mankind achieved 40 years ago... We're talking about establishing permanent bases."

In March, a leaked Roscosmos road map suggested it could send a manned mission for that purpose sometime after 2025. Popovkin has also previously said his agency was in talks with potential European and US partners for such a base. This from a country which still hasn't figured out what freedom of speech (I'm thinking of Pussy Riot here) and fair elections mean. Think about it - would you rather trust your life in a space station the Russians built, or one built by Apple?

By the way, if all this has you thinking about Apple's I mean NASA's Mars Curiosity rover and the Red Planet, there are (of course) apps for that.

One even tells you what time it is on our planetary neighbour.

Finally, there's a moonbase game ... of course! (Free, too.)

Happy low-gravity thoughts.

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