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NASA’s Pluto probe wakes up, powered by 20-year-old Sony PlayStation chip

Given that technology advances at such a pace and space missions are lengthy affairs, it is no surprise that some of the on-board circuitry can become a bit outdated.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which launched in 2006 on its mission to Pluto, is a case in point, being powered by the computer chip used in the original Sony PlayStation.

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International Business Times reports that the probe is being controlled by the Mongoose-V computer chip, a modified version of the MIPS R3000 used as the CPU in Sony’s iconic video game console. It has also been used for a number of other NASA missions, including its Space Technology 5 series of microsatellites.

The New Horizons spacecraft was woken from its hibernation period last month after a journey of more than 3 billion miles. The craft will now enter a series of approach phases leading up to the first ever close-up flyby of the dwarf planet on 14 July.

“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

Following its discovery in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh, Pluto was classified as the ninth planet in our Solar System. However, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to re-classify Pluto as just one of a number of dwarf planets located in the outer reaches of the barcSolar System, known as the Kuiper Belt. In 2016, the New Horizons team will request an extension of the mission to explore this region of space more extensively.

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The New Horizons project just goes to show what can be achieved with technology that today would be considered antiquated. The Apollo 11 lunar missions, after all, were carried out using computers that had less processing power than a modern day smartphone.