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NASA Updates (One of) Its Oldest Displays

2 min read

It looks like it’s zero hour for the NASA countdown clock. After more than 40 years of operation at the Kennedy Space Center – the clock is set to be replaced by a more modern LED display.

NASA Updates (One of) Its Oldest Displays

It’s interesting to use the retirement of the clock as a data point on how fast display technologies are now changing.  Although most of the world moved to LED displays over a decade ago – the iconic countdown clock, when it was originally envisioned, was a pretty interesting display.  The clock is made up of about 350 “pixels” of resolution.  Each of these pixels was a 40-watt lightbulb that was controlled through a set of analog circuits to illuminate each on demand, creating a digital clock display.  Although the display was a workhorse for more than 4 decades – after all, how long will your latest LED television last? – its specs, by modern standards are miserable.  The display contains about 48 pixels in a horizontal row, spread over about 20 feet. That translates to a pixel density of about 0.2 pixels-per-inch (or “dot pitch” for the AV geeks like me out there).  Even the most lowly LED advertising sign gracing the side of the highway may have a dot pitch of 12mm, or one pixel every .47 inches.  This corresponds to a DPI of 2.12.

Brightness and power efficiency are, of course, getting a major upgrade as well.  Typical incandescent bulbs produce about 11 lumens of brightness per watt.  So those old 40-watt bulbs were generating about 450 lumens.  Compare this to an average LED that can generate 160 lumens/watt.  It makes you wonder what took NASA so long…nostalgia perhaps.  But they have said the new display will cost around $280,000. Congrats to the AV company installing to the new display – that’s a lot of light bulbs.

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