New Horizons
Artwork depicting the probe.Nasa

After nine years Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft, which embarked on its mission to reach Pluto in 2006, has been woken up as it nears the former planet - and it is all made possible by the same computer chip which powered the original Sony PlayStation launched in 1994.

Mongoose-V Chip
The Mongoose-V chip.Nasa

On board the probe, four processors power two systems (each duplicated) that control data handling and control. The CPU powering New Horizons is the Mongoose-V chip, a version of the MIPS R3000 micro-processing chip that was the CPU of choice for Sony's original PlayStation.

The chip is still being used today in a range of Toshiba microcontrollers.

New Horizons is now 3.5 billion miles away from the Sun and is carrying the ashes of astronomer Clyde Tombaugh – who discovered Pluto in 1930. It will now carry out a number of approach phases that will end in July.

The probe will then explore the dwarf planet and its moons.

"NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind's first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly."

In late 2016 the team in charge of running Horizons will propose to Nasa an extension of the mission that will see it fly by other objects recently uncovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in that region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt.

When New Horizons first launched in January 2006, Pluto was still a planet. It was reclassified later that year as a dwarf planet, much to the ire of people around the world. We wouldn't be the ones to tell it should the craft after return to Earth.