By now, you’re likely aware that July 20th was the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 spaceflight that first landed humans on the moon. NASA has always been an early adopter of new technologies, but did you know we walked on the moon over a decade before the first modern form laptop was created? This week we’re looking at the creation of the first modern form laptop, how NASA used it and answering the question: is NASA affected by security breaches?
The GRiD Compass 1101
The 16-bit Grid Compass 1101 was released in 1982 and was the first modern form laptop. At the time it was prized for its durability due to its bulky and durable magnesium clamshell case. This clamshell case later became a standard feature in all modern laptops, with a screen that folds shut against the keyboard, making it highly portable.
The laptop was created by a British designer named Bill Moggridge in 1979. Moggridge’s name appears on the clamshell patent design. He was also the director of the Cooper Hewitt national design museum in New York.
The initial model of the Grid Compass was named the 1101, it had an Intel 8086 processor, a 320×240-pixel display, 340-kilobyte magnetic bubble memory, and a 1,200 bit/s modem. You could even connect hard drives and floppy drives via the GPIB (General Purpose Instrumentation Bus). The Compass had its own operating system, GRiD-OS.
The specialized software and “modern” design came with a high price – anywhere between $8,000-$10,000 USD. Since it was powerful, compact and ‘lightweight’ the US government was the main buyer. It was used on NASA’s space shuttle missions starting in 1985 for navigation and the tracking of on-board data like the amount of fuel. It was also used by paratroopers in combat.
When we say ‘lightweight’ we mean it was light for its time. The Grid Compass 1101 weighed around 11lbs – which is almost 4x as much as the newest MacBook Air.
Is NASA affected by security breaches?
With NASA being a high-profile organization, NASA has become a target for hackers. One of the most high-profile security breaches occurred in April of 2018 when approximately 500 MB of data related to the Mars missions was stolen.
The breach came from a Raspberry Pi device. These devices are made up of a single-board computer that is highly customizable and affordable for both professionals and students alike.
NASA’s Raspberry Pi in question was connected to the IT network inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory without authorization or a security review. From here, the hacker was able to move deeper inside the network through a shared network gateway and gain access to critical information about the Mars missions.
Another recent NASA breach occurred in October 2018 when an unknown intruder gained access to another NASA server. This time, the server stored the personal data, including social security numbers of both current and former NASA employees.
NASA still doesn’t know the full scale of the breach but has notified all its employees to take countermeasures. Those affected have also been provided with follow-up information on identity protection services and other resources.
So in short, yes, NASA is often a target for cyber attacks.
Believe it or not, we even use the Raspberry Pi here at FixMeStick! Each one of those boards you see in our Behind the Scenes blog post with FixMeSticks plugged into them is powered by a Raspberry Pi computer. They help us copy our software onto the USB devices!
Even if you don’t work for a high-profile agency like NASA, you should protect your privacy by using a VPN as well as FixMeStick.