I recently attended an interesting talk about PowerBooks in space. It was given by Bill Shepard, a NASA astronaut and shuttle crew member, who took a PowerBook 170 up with him on his flight last year. The PowerBook ran a custom position tracking program called MacSPOC that pinpointed the shuttle’s location on a map and showed both the flight path and which window gave the best view for that particular moment. It also ran a custom Aperture database that provided graphical information on the shuttle’s storage locations and the contents of each area – this program was painfully slow on the screen redraw.
Bill’s 170 was modified slightly with a positive connect power coupling for the AC adapter, a thermal cutout (?) for the battery system to prevent it from going into thermal overload, and a modified trackball retainer ring that kept the trackball firmly seated against the rollers in zero-g. Bill also designed the mission patch in FreeHand on the PowerBook.
Someone asked when the next PowerBook was scheduled to go up and Bill replied that he wasn’t sure when the next PowerBook would go, but a Macintosh Portable will go up [when it’s weightless, who cares? -Adam] sometime this summer with a European Space Agency mission designated D-2. He also stated that although he was sold on the Macintosh interface, NASA already has Grid PC-compatible laptops for use aboard the shuttle and that it’s difficult to get Macs included due to budget constraints and testing requirements.
Bill showed a video of the mission that included footage of the 170 firing a floppy disk across the crew compartment and hitting another crew member in the head – some eject mechanism, eh? The rest of the video included Earth shots and the standard "let’s play with food in zero-g" antics. All in all, an interesting talk.