ISS switches to Linux and the Terminator's 'SkyNet' is imminent
International Space Station switches from Windows to Linux, for
By Sebastian Anthony May 9, 2013 at 9:21 am
The United Space Alliance, which manages the computers aboard the
International Space Station in association with NASA, has announced
that the Windows XP computers aboard the ISS have been switched to
Linux. "We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we
needed an operating system that was stable and reliable."
In specific, the "dozens of laptops" will make the change to Debian 6.
These laptops will join many other systems aboard the ISS that already
run various flavors of Linux, such as RedHat and Scientific Linux. As
far as we know, after this transition, there won't be a single
computer aboard the ISS that runs Windows. Beyond stability and
reliability, Keith Chuvala of the United Space Alliance says they
wanted an operating system that "would give us in-house control. So
if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could." It's worth noting
that the ISS laptops used to run Windows XP, and we know they've been
infected by at least one virus in their lifetime: in 2008, a Russian
cosmonaut brought a laptop aboard with the W32.Gammima.AG worm, which
quickly spread to the other laptops on board. Switching to Linux will
essentially immunize the ISS against future infections.
The laptops that were upgraded belong to the station's OpsLAN. The
crew use the OpsLAN to perform day-to-day activities, such as viewing
stock inventory, controlling scientific experiments, or checking their
current location. Presumably the laptops used to run bespoke Win32
apps on Windows XP, and now those apps have been re-written to work on
Linux -- hopefully they're not being emulated in WINE. To get the
astronauts and cosmonauts up to speed, they will be trained by the
To be honest, we shouldn't be too surprised at the ditching of
Windows. Linux is the scientific community's operating system of
choice. CERN's Large Hadron Collider is controlled by Linux. NASA
and SpaceX ground stations use Linux. DNA-sequencing lab technicians
use Linux. Really, for applications that require absolute stability,
which most scientific experiments are, Linux is the obvious choice.
The fact that the entire OS is open source and can be easily
customized for each experiment is obviously a very big draw, too.
In other news, the first humanoid robot in space, Robonaut 2, which
also runs Linux, is due for an upgrade soon. Robonaut 2 (pictured
above) was delivered on Space Shuttle Discovery's final mission in
2011, and at the moment it's just a torso with two arms -- but later
in 2013, some climbing legs and a battery pack should be delivered.
The ultimate goal is to see whether humans and robots can operate
peacefully in zero gravity, with Robonaut eventually performing menial
tasks (vacuuming, changing filters), and possibly dangerous tasks
during space walks, too.