When Nintendo was putting together the final hardware for what would become the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) back in the ’80s, it’s unlikely that it would ever have envisioned the humble hardware being used for something like tracking the International Space Station. As the ISS was launched in 1998, that wouldn’t have made much sense anyway!
But here we are in 2020, where everything needs to be connected to the Internet including toasters and fridges, so why not the NES? Software developer Vi Grey has created and released an International Space Station tracker for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which is pretty rad.
Using a NES game developed from the ground up and a device to send ISS tracking data to the game in the form of button presses through the controller port, the ISS’ position is displayed over a map in real-time, showing where the ISS is at that precise moment.
Here’s how it looks running on the NES:
Let’s hand you over to Vi Grey to explain how this interesting project came to pass:
“Is this project a bit esoteric? Sure! But it’s a treat to see the International Space Station flying overhead, knowing that there are currently 3 people in there, knowing that Bob Benkhen and Doug Hurley made history just months ago as the first people to make it to the ISSin a private spacecraft, knowing they made it back home safely. The ISS may only be about 400 km above the earth at any moment, but it is still a shining beacon of curiosity and hope of scientific progress.
“My friend had sent me a picture of his family camping with the ISS shining above the camp fire. Later that same night, out of pure coincidence, I saw the ISS flying overhead while taking a walk. The thought of displaying the ISS position in real-time with an NES was born at that moment.
“Still, why the NES? It may not seem like it, but the old video game consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Atari 2600 are actually computers. Those two game consoles actually used essentially the same processor as the Apple II and Commodore 64. A computer’s job is to take inputs and produce outputs from that. When you play a game like Super Mario Bros, you give the game inputs like pressing A and the output of Mario jumping happens. If a computer can track the ISS and the NES is a computer, then an NES should be able to track the ISS.
“The NES is a computer and honestly one of my favorite computers to program for. This project, like many others I have created, is an attempt to show people that very fact. The NES may not run anywhere near as fast as your phone, but it still is about 40 times faster than the computer used for the Apollo 11 mission.
“Since the beginning of development of this project, care was taken to make sure others can play around with this project without the need for special hardware. This project will run on the FCEUX and Mesen NES emulators with a single program called a Lua script.”
A blog post describing this project in more detail along with instructions for readers to play with it using a NES emulator can be found here. Let us know what you think about this novel use of NES hardware with a comment below.