Today marks 31 years since the first email was sent from space, made with an Apple Macintosh

The first laptop in history, the Macintosh M5120, also starred in this technological milestone hand in hand with NASA

In the summer of 1991, between August 2 and 11, the shuttle Atlantis carried out NASA’s STS-43 mission. With four astronauts on board, the main objective was the deployment of the TDRS-E satellite as well as a series of experiments, including a small milestone in the development of the Internet: the sending of the first email from space, which took place on 9 August using Apple technology .

This technology was, on the one hand, the first laptop in history with an integrated battery , so that it was not necessary to connect it to an external source, and on the other AppleLink , the name of the application and the Internet connection service that Apple maintained between 1986 and 1994. Neither was comparable to the technology we have today, but that’s precisely why the story is interesting.

The Macintosh M5120 was what was then known, more generically, as a Macintosh Portable. Apple manufactured it between 1989 and 1991 without being able to make it a bestseller, among other reasons because of its high starting price, $7,300 at the time . The M5120 weighed 7.3 kilos, had a 9.8-inch black and white screen, 640×400 pixel resolution, 1 MB of RAM that could be increased to 9 MB, a floppy disk drive, a 40 MB hard disk, a processor Motorola 68000 that reached a frequency of 16 Mhz and a trackball that allowed him to do without the classic mechanical mouse, with the ball inside that drags on a surface, which could not work in weightless conditions .

Macintosh M5120 .

Macintosh M5120. PHOTO

The presence of the Macintosh Portable on Atlantis served several purposes other than being able to deliver the first email from space. The astronauts had to test various alternative control devices to the mouse , record the medical results of some of the tests they performed and check the operation of software that displayed the orbital position of Atlantis in real time .

NASA made some modifications to its battery, such as the inclusion of a circuit breaker, to meet the safety requirements necessary on board a spacecraft. In order to connect with AppleLink, NASA also modified the modem to work with its synchronous DCE equipment, and Apple made some changes to Apple Link to address delays in routing and data packets being transmitted.

Despite having the latest technology of the time, the sending of the email encountered some setbacks and it was not until the third attempt that they were able to establish a connection with the communications satellite that they had deployed and that could only be maintained for a couple of minutes. due to the altitude of Atlantis in relation to the TDRS-E and that it was in energy saving mode as part of the experiments they were carrying out.

Deployment of the TDRS-E satellite during the STS-43 mission of the shuttle Atlantis.

Deployment of the TDRS-E satellite during the STS-43 mission of the shuttle Atlantis.  (Custom Credit) Courtesy of NASA.

In that short space of time, Shannon Lucid and James C. Adamson managed to get the email to Marcia Evins at the Johnson Space Center. The message read “Hello Earth! Greetings from the STS-43 crew. This is the first AppleLink from space. Having a __BIG__ time, wish you were here,…send cryogenics, and CS! Have a good day… Goodbye, baby … We’ll be back!”

In addition to the curious reference to that summer’s cinematographic success, Terminator II, the cryogenics and CS (Reaction Control System) that the text mentions are a request, in a joking tone, for the shipment of more fuel for life support systems and control of the ship and thus be able to stay longer in orbit .

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