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Offbeat NASA buys parts on ebay.


Banned - What an Asshat!
The article was published on: Sunday, May 12, 2002. I bit old, but I just thought it was interesting.

NASA checks EBay for obsolete parts
Electronic gear monitoring shuttle uses outdated chips

NASA needs parts no one makes anymore.

So to keep the shuttles flying, the space agency has begun trolling the Internet -- including the Web sites of Yahoo Inc. and EBay Inc. -- to find replacement parts for electronic gear that would strike a home computer user as primitive.

Officials say the National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently bought a load of outdated medical equipment so it could scavenge Intel 8086 chips -- a variant of which powered IBM Corp.'s first personal computer, in 1981.

When the first shuttle roared into space that year, the 8086 chip played a critical role, at the heart of diagnostic equipment that made sure the shuttle's booster rockets were safe for blastoff.

Today, booster testing still uses 8086 chips, which are increasingly scarce.

NASA plans to create a $20 million automated checking system, with all new hardware and software. In the meantime, it is finding and hoarding 8086s so that a failed one does not ground the nation's aging spaceships.

The same is true of other obsolescent parts -- dozens of them.

"It's like a scavenger hunt," said Jeff Carr, a spokesman for the United Space Alliance, a Houston company that runs the shuttle fleet.

Troves of old parts that NASA uncovers and buys, officials said, are used not in the shuttles but in flotillas of servicing and support gear. Such equipment is found, and often repaired, at major shuttle contractors around the nation, as well as at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

That old computer in your basement? NASA is not interested. The agency and its contractors do not buy equipment from individuals, instead using Web searches to find stockpiles of old parts. Then they buy in bulk.

Recent acquisitions include outdated circuit boards and 8-inch floppy-disk drives. "One missing piece of hardware can ruin our day," said Mike Renfroe, director of shuttle logistics planning for the United Space Alliance at Kennedy Space Center.

In some ways, NASA's growing reliance on antiquated parts is a measure of how far its star has fallen. In the early 1960s, the agency played a leading role in founding the chip industry. Its mass purchase of the world's first integrated circuits set the fledgling commercial enterprise on the road to success and profitability.

In turn, the chips let NASA achieve feats of miniaturization that put advanced satellites into orbit and men on the moon.

Today, NASA is increasingly a victim of its own success. Civilian electronic markets move so fast, and the shuttles are so old, that NASA and its contractors must scramble to find substitutes.

Strange...but if they work then it doesn't matter where they get them from.
deus_ex_machina said:
Strange...but if they work then it doesn't matter where they get them from.
LOL...e-bay wasn't the point. The point is that they're still using 8086 technology, or at least they were in 2002.
You get an A+ for effort, though.