An early computing expert has been restoring the guidance system used by NASA to land a man on the moon in the 1960s. Ken Sheriff has also programmed the machine to run Bitcoin code but says it would take an insanely long time to mine a single Bitcoin block using the once-high tech hardware.
Despite being a challenge to code, Sheriff believes it would be possible to mine Bitcoin using the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC). The only problem is that at 10.3 seconds per single hash, it would take a billion times the length that the universe has existed to guess a Bitcoin block hash.
The Ludicrousness of Bitcoin Mining on AGC Shows How Computers have Developed in Just 50 Years
Ken Sheriff is an expert with early computers. He has previously rebuilt the computer from a Soviet Union air defence system, as well as various other important relics from hardware history.
His latest project has been to restore the guidance computer from the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s. Having rebuilt the once-cutting-edge machine, he decided to try to code it to be able to mine Bitcoin, an exercise that Sheriff describes as both “pointless and anachronistic”. On these grounds, he decided to give it a go.
The Apollo Guidance Computer navigated to the moon, but can it mine Bitcoin? I tried it on our working AGC; at 10.3 seconds per hash, it would take a billion times the age of the universe to mine a block. Still faster than mining by hand or punch cards.https://t.co/uGXfDYWAHd pic.twitter.com/6bLpOzAhqK
— Ken Shirriff (@kenshirriff) July 8, 2019
Since the computer systems that the Bitcoin code was written on are far more advanced than the AGC, the computing historian writes on his blog that even getting the computer to mine the network was wrought with challenges.
However, Sheriff persevered with the old hardware and was successful in writing the necessary code to put the AGC to work mining digital gold for him. The only problem is that he estimates the length of time needed to guess a single hash of a Bitcoin block to be a billion times the duration of the entire universe.
The AGC is capable of making a single guess at a random hash every 10 seconds. Compare this to a modern, top-spec ASIC Bitcoin mining unit, which can make 16 trillion guesses every second. To be honest, a human guessing hashes is likely going to average out at a faster hash rate than the AGC!
Although setting the AGC to actually mine Bitcoin today would be incredibly wasteful in terms of electricity cost, the hardware was the absolute cutting edge of its day. Previous computer systems were often the size of an entire room. At just 70 pounds and a cubic foot in size, the AGC was compact enough to be taken aboard a rocket and quite literally blasted to the moon. It was also one of the first machines to feature integrated circuits. Aboard the Apollo missions, the AGC was tasked with guidance and navigation. It also controlled the engines of the ships.
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