The Visualist Blog

NASA Updates (One of) Its Oldest Displays

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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