The Apollo program needed a computer that could be used on the Lunar Excursion Module for calculating orbital trajectories. The delay involved in having computers on Earth do the calculations was considered too great, and there was a chance that the LEM would be behind the Moon when the calculations were needed. A programmable computer, with a few kilobits of memory, which did not require a lot of battery power was required. As a result, the first microprocessor was created, which is a computer on a chip. That means that all of the components needed for the computer to operate where on a single wafer of silicon. This created a revolution in computing, which resulted in desktop computers becoming possible. Without the demand for a small, low power computer, the microprocessor would probably never have been created, and desktop computers, or 'personal' computers, as they were known, would never have come into existence.
NASA uses computers in many different ways. NASA uses computers to calculate spacecraft trajectories, figuring out where to aim a spacecraft so it will reach a particular point or orbit in space at a particular time. NASA uses computers to track spacecraft after launch, calculating how to keep them on course with minimum fuel use. This involves a compromise between waiting as long as possible to make a correction (so the actual course is known better) and correcting as soon as possible (to use less fuel for a given correction). NASA uses computers on board the spacecraft themselves to control guidance systems, propulsion systems, experiments and everything else. NASA uses computers to analyze data sent back from space missions. NASA uses computers to keep track of the thousands of objects that orbit the earth today. NASA uses computers for every administrative purpose that any other large organization would use them for, such as budgeting, personnel, word processing, e-mail, its Web site, etc., etc. It might make more sense to ask "what does NASA not use computers for?" It would be a shorter list!
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