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Everything is impossible until it's not: August edition

How did a MacBook predecessor and a famous Terminator quote become part of the most famous email of all time?


Everything is impossible — until it isn’t. At Strike, we’re looking back on disruptive moments that changed the world. From technology that has shaped our lives to feats of human strength and resilience that were never thought possible, every month we’ll bring you a moment in history that changed everything.

Here at Strike, we’re all about disruptive moments — moments that not only motivate and inspire us, but also challenge our perceptions of what we think is possible. This month we’re skyrocketing (quite literally) out of the ordinary and into the stratosphere, to look at a disruptive moment that transformed the world of tech, and the world of space travel, forever. 

We look back to August 9th, 1991, when the first email message was beamed back to earth from outer space, and the rest is history.

‘Hello Earth!’

It’s hard to believe that thirty years ago, the idea of sending an email from a portable computer device was almost unthinkable. It’s no wonder then that the idea of sending an email from a portable computer device in space, would have been mind-blowing. 

Even today, it’s still an extraordinary scene to picture. One August in 1991, two astronauts — James Adamson and Shannon Lucid (both members of the crew onboard the American Space Shuttle, Atlantis) — opened their Mac Portable and wrote an email back to their colleagues on earth. 

The email transmitted to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas read

“Hello Earth! Greetings from the STS-43 Crew. This is the first AppleLink from space. Having a GREAT time, wish you were here,...send cryo and RCS! Hasta la vista, baby,...we'll be back!” 

The astronauts were on a nine-day space mission, the ninth mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and their main aim was to launch a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, but they also managed to break a world record at the same time — not bad for a day’s work! 

The email was sent via Apple’s ground-breaking online service, AppleLink. AppleLink was originally used to connect Apple dealers and third-party connectors needing technical support. But for the purposes of the mission, it was hooked up to NASA’s own comminutions system, enabling the email to be sent — the longest distance, perhaps, that an email has ever been sent. 

Unbelievably, the Mac only required slight modifications to enable it to work in space and during the flight. "

The Mac Portable

The Mac Portable that Adamson and Lucid used that day was a state-of-the-art device. Launched on September 20th, 1989, by product chief Jean-Louis Gassée, the Mac Portable was the first ever battery-powered portable computer. Gassée’s aim was to create a computer that was just as powerful as its desktop predecessor. “No subset of applications, no Mac Jr., no compromise” he told audiences at Universal City, California, where he unveiled the new computer. 

The Mac Portable wasn’t quite the lightweight and slimline MacBook that we’re used to slipping into our bags today. Firstly, it was much heavier — with the computer and hard drive coming in at around 16-pounds — it was also much more expensive, being worth over $7,000 at the time (that’s more than $13,000 in today’s money). But the machine was known at the time for its long battery life, lasting 10 hours when charged according to Apple, and it was also a design classic.

Unbelievably, the Mac only required slight modifications to enable it to work in space and during the flight. The crew tested the Mac’s various components to see what worked, including its built-in trackball. The Mac also ran software which helped the crew track the shuttle's position against the world map, enabling them to see day and night cycles. Not bad for the first portable device of its kind.

While the Mac Portable didn't quite catch on, it was the predecessor to the MacBooks we know and love today, and it played a very important role in a record-breaking moment. One which introduced, not just MacBooks, but also email to the world — and also to outer space. A pretty impressive feat.  

We're always looking to dream bigger and find ways to make the impossible possible. Next month, we'll be back with another moment that changed everything.