The International Space Station is now the first Linux platform in space. The United Space Alliance, the organization running the computers aboard the space station, announced that the Windows XP computers on the space station have been phased out in favor of Debian 6. The reasons for the switch put forward by the agency were stability and reliability.
The agency recently completed training of the ISS crew on the basics of Linux development and a few stray laptops on the space station already running a different version of Linux will also be switched over to Debian.
Tux Innnnnn Spaaaaaaace
Up to now the computers aboard the space station were running a mix of different operating systems, including RedHat, CentOS and Scientific Linux, but the most predominant was Windows XP. With the switch to all Linux both NASA and the United Space Alliance will be able to customize programs and the operating system to fit the mission parameters. If there are security issues that need to be addressed right now, the IT team will be able to address them in-house without waiting for an update from a vendor.
This will also mean that both the space station and their robotic astronaut, which has Linux running on its 38 internal PowerPC processors, will be running on the same software platform.
The switch largely brings an end the threat of virus infection of the ISS computers, as happened in 2008 when a Russian astronaut brought a virus on board with an infected Windows XP laptop.
Linux The Right Choice For NASA, Space Station
Given that most scientific research is being done on Linux, the switch away from Microsoft products was the right choice for NASA and the United Space Alliance. Scientific applications, which can be decades old in some instances and include embeded systems running instrumentation, need stability and long-term consistency to function properly. Engineers and developers can’t be limited to waiting on big software vendors for needed changes and security patches.
With the switch to Linux NASA and the United Space Alliance will be able to take over the modification and customization of the ISS software and move away from dependence on outside vendors.