The First Laptop in Space, the GRiD 1101

by on September 11, 2012

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grid computer

The first laptop in space was designed by a man named Bill Moggridge who passed away September 8th, 2012 at the age of 69 years old.  Bill won the Prince Philip Designers Prize  In 2010 which recognizes outstanding computer design.

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Since this was one of the first laptops on the market the pricetag of this masterpiece was a whopping $8150. With that kind of price only the very wealthy enthusiast or governments could afford it, one of the first customers was the US Government, namely NASA.

The GRID Compass 1101 made history when it  flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery in the 80s after it was commissioned by NASA.

grid 1101

GRiD 1101 computer, the first computer in space

The computer had a bright and crisp ELD (electroluminescent display) that was helpful during the space shuttles imaging missions.  NASA was interested in the GRID 1101 because it’s display could show full 80×24 text in a portable computer that was small enough to fit in the tight confines of the space shuttle.

The computer featured an Intel 8086 processor, a 320 × 240-pixel electroluminescent display, 340-kilobyte magnetic bubble memory, and a 1,200 bit/s modem. Devices such as hard drives and floppy drives could be connected via the IEEE-488 I/O (also known as the GPIB or General Purpose Instrumentation Bus). This port made it possible to connect multiple devices to the addressable device bus. It weighed 5 kg (11 lb). The power input is ~110/220 V AC, 47–66 Hz, 75 W. – Source

The 1101 had a built-in 300/1200 baud modem (a separate card from the motherboard) and GRiDTerm software allowed easy and convenient access to GRiD Central - an on-line file storage system (think dropbox for GriD owners)which provided dial-up access to software libraries and remote data storage (up to 50K) for GRiD owners. There was a battery-backed clock that helped keep track of the long-distance phone charges.

The GriD system continued with NASA into the 90s partly because of the bubble memory which made for a shock resistant computing during human space flights.  Bubble memory has since been retired from the NASA fleet but without it’s help we wouldn’t be where we are today.

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