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The Mount McCaber Space Science Institute

The ITSHAL Supercomputer - Software in the Service of Humanity.

For advanced data processing, theoretical modelling and instrument control the Institute maintains a supercomputer or, at least, what passed for one when it was first deployed in January 1954.

Originally intended for the real-time processing of TV images from the Earl Clancarty Telescope the supercomputers’ processing power and thus utility was greatly enhanced following a significant update in 1969 when NASA made available components from its abandoned Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer program. Although the NASA system had been intended to automate many of the routine tasks that would be faced by future space craft on long duration flights to the outer solar system,  its testing during a ground-based rehearsal for a manned mission to Europa proved disastrous. Despite NASA successfully recouping some of the development costs by selling the “in-flight” surveillance footage to film maker Stanley Kubrick, the programme was rapidly terminated and the surviving components offered to the UK as the last vestige of a WW2 technology sharing partnership under which we gave them radar, the atom bomb and supersonic flight and they gave us M&Ms  (No, really. Google it. And they stole the idea from Smarties.)

As ever, the scraps from a failed US project were gratefully received by a cash-strapped UK government worried about being left behind in the race to develop a countermeasure to the Hippy sub-culture. The improved computer system was fully operational at Mt McCaber by early 1970, one of its first tasks being to control the HRT for the purposes of maintaining communication with what turned out to be the ill-fated Apollo 13 lunar mission.

Although replacement valves are increasingly hard to source, the system is still in use. By the late 1980's it was felt that the system had had its day especially since uploading revised software programmes was proving increasingly problematical. However, in the absence of funding for a replacement, it continued in use. Indeed estimates of its remaining useful life have recently been extended by the discovery that entirely adequate computer punch cards can be fabricated from the cardboard of cereal packets, with Aldi and Lidl brands being preferred, due to both their lower cost and their thinner cardboard. For the record, the MMSSI's IT Support Officer, Douglas Stinger, has publicly stated a preference for Lidl's own-brand "Malties" range because, as he explained, "they go down a treat, with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of milk." Presumably that's some kind of weird computer geek jargon he's using there.

The Optical Image Input device of ITSHAL