International Space Station Abandons Windows In Favour Of Debian

Laptops in Earth’s orbit will run Linux

‘OpsLAN’- the network of laptops aboard the International Space Station (ISS) – is set to switch from Windows XP to Debian 6, the Linux Foundation has announced.

The non-profit organisation has finished training ISS personnel in the basics of Linux development. These skills could also be useful when programming Robonaut 2 (pictured below), the first humanoid robot in space, which also runs Linux.

A few laptops running the Scientific Linux distribution (a white label version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux) will also be switched to Debian.

Tux in space

Although the equipment on the station has been running various Linux distributions, including Red Hat and CentOS, dozens of its laptops were still struggling with Microsoft’s decade-old OS.

Robonaut 2 and Dan Burbank (Wikipedia)“We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable – one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could,” explained Keith Chuvala of United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor involved in ISS operations.

Before the switch, United Space Alliance and NASA staff went through two training courses for Linux developers, and will be able to tailor the software to the needs of the Space Station. “At the ISS, our constellation of users maxes out at six, all with very specific requirements and duties,” said Chuvala.

Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space which was sent to the station in February 2011, also runs Linux. It features over 350 sensors and 38 PowerPC processors, can be manipulated either by onboard crew or ground personnel and was designed to take over some of the astronaut’s more dangerous or unpleasant responsibilities.

Over its 22 year history, Linux has been widely used in serious scientific projects. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is controlled by its own special version of Scientific Linux, while the five-year ENCODE (Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements) Project relies on CentOS.

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